One of the unexpected side-effects of the American-led peace initiative currently being held in Bahrain, is the opportunity for a number of Israelis – including journalists and businessmen – to meet with the country’s high-ranking officials.
Israel does not have diplomatic relations with Gulf island kingdom, but Bahrain’s leaders have agreed to bend visa restrictions to enable their presence at the “Peace to Prosperity” conference.
The last time that Israelis have been allowed to visit Manama, Bahrain’s capital, en masse was in the halcyon days following the signing of the Oslo Accords on the White House lawn in 1993.
The Palestinian Authority, however, boycotted the event, not wishing to provide it with an air of legitimacy. As for Israel, none of its government officials were invited.
There are many complex political and economic issues to try and iron out, but the fact that the conference is even taking place is raising hopes for increased cooperation between Israel and its Arab neighbors. If not exactly “normalization” or warming of relations, it may be the beginning of a sort of rapprochement, in which knowledge and experience might be shared.
Prof. Yitzhak Kreiss, director general of Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer, who was personally invited by US Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin, participated in the high-profile summit and believes future collaboration is on the horizon.
He has already held meetings with high-ranking Bahraini leaders like Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa. Such meetings may be the beginning of joint research projects and other ventures in the Arab world.
“I don’t know yet how feasible it is, but I can tell you what I feel: I feel that in the near future we will do things professionally together,” he said, according to a report in The New York Times.
For Kreiss, a born and raised Israeli, seeing his fellow countrymen embraced in the predominantly Arab country has been an eye-opening experience.
“The mood here is positive, heartwarming and optimistic,” Kriess, who arrived on Tuesday, said.
What’s more, since the need for advanced healthcare is a universal one, Kreiss said that medicine is the ultimate way to break down barriers in ways traditional diplomacy can’t.
“Despite the distances and politics that presently divide the peoples and nations of the Middle East, prosperity through medicine is truly attainable. Hospitals without borders can serve to connect, inspire and ultimately create a healthier and more peaceful world for all of us,” Kriess said.