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Claims over talks with Israel denied

BAHRAIN has denied claims that Foreign Minister Shaikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa acted against the conscience of Bahrainis, Arabs and Muslims by holding an unofficial meeting with his Israeli counterpart Tzipora Livni. MPs have condemned the minister for the meeting, which happened while both were attended a summit at the UN in New York last week.

Members of the opposition Al Wefaq parliamentary bloc are drafting a new law that would ban any normalisation of relations with Israel and include tough penalties for anyone who broke it.

Some have also threatened to push for the reopening of an Israel Products Boycott Office, which was closed according to terms in the US-Bahrain Free Trade Agreement.

MP Jalal Fairooz alleged that American Jewish groups were infiltrating Bahrain and demanded an explanation from the minister, saying he could face questioning in parliament if he does not make clear what happened.

The Foreign Ministry has confirmed that the meeting took place, but says it was within Bahrain's role in the Middle East peace process.

"The Foreign Ministry wishes to make it clear that Bahrain's stances in support of the Palestinian cause remain unequivocal and unflinching and are not susceptible to any political manipulation or bargaining," it said in a statement.

"Bahrain's crystal clear stances, which never derailed from the Arab mainstream, stress the need to reach a lasting, comprehensive and just peace based on the establishment of a fully-independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.

"The Foreign Ministry's contacts must not be regarded as a normalisation step with Israel, but as a contribution to the joint Arab efforts in support of the Palestinian cause and to the benefit of Bahrain's supreme interests."

The statement added that the meeting came within the framework of Bahrain's role in the Arab peace initiative, which called for maintaining contacts with all sides involved in the Middle East peace process, to defend the Palestinian cause.

"Bahrain presided over last year's Arab group at the United Nations Security Council and called for the need to press ahead with the peace process in the Middle East," it said.

"Prior to that the kingdom had also had many contacts and paid a number of visits to different Arab countries, including Palestine.

"Attempts by Bahrain to speed up a solution to the Arab-Israeli crisis started when an Israeli delegation headed by Israel's environment minister visited the kingdom in the last decade, within the framework of multi-sided peace negotiations.

"The Foreign Ministry affirms that all contracts being made are transparent and overt. They aim to back up the Palestinians and ease their suffering.

"However, undoubtedly the current political reality is far different from that of 40 years ago, something many tend to ignore despite new political developments."

The controversy flared when the Lebanese newspaper Al Akhbar reported on Monday that Mr Livni held separate meetings with Arab and Islamic foreign ministers from Egypt, Jordan, Mauritania, Oman, Tunisia, Morocco, Indonesia and Bahrain.

The news was taken from Israeli daily Haaretz, which reportedly claimed that Bahrain held political meetings with Israel in the 1990s, along with Oman and Qatar.

It also said that Israel's former foreign minister Yossi Sarees headed a delegation to Manama 12 years ago to meet Bahraini officials on environmental issues.

Al Akhbar added that Livni had already met former UN General Assembly president Shaikha Haya bint Rashid Al Khalifa, according to Haaretz.



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