Bahrain’s parliament on Tuesday approved legislation penalizing contacts with Israel, a move which could complicate Gulf Arab leaders’ efforts to promote peace talks with Israel.
"Whoever holds any communication or official talks with Israeli officials or travels to Israel will face a fine … and/or a jail sentence of three to five years," member of parliament Jalal Fairooz from the Shiite al-Wefaq bloc, an opposition group that was the driving force behind the move.
"The motivation is that steps are being taken by certain countries to allow certain talks to be held with Israeli officials. Israeli delegates have managed to participate in events in Arab countries with no treaties with Israel."
Diplomats and analysts say Arab governments have been pressured by the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama to make steps towards normalizing ties in order to help encourage Israel to enter peace talks with Palestinians.
But popular sentiment has been opposed to such moves. An Egyptian writer is facing disciplinary action by the journalists union for meeting the Israeli ambassador in Cairo.
Bahrain’s Crown Prince Sheikh Salman bin Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa wrote in the Washington Post in July that Arabs had not done enough to communicate directly with Israelis.
Khalifa said Arab leaders must "tell our story more directly to the Israeli people by getting the message out to their media" and emphasizing support for the so-called Arab Initiative, which promises normalized relations between Israel and the Arab world in exchange for the creation of a Palestinian state.
Bahraini officials visited Israel in July in an official capacity for the first time to collect five of their nationals Israel was deporting after seizing them on a ship bound for the Palestinian territory of Gaza, blockaded by Israel.
Bahrain’s parliament has limited powers and bills must pass through an upper house whose members are chosen by the king. Ultimate power lies with the ruling family.
Egypt, Jordan and Mauritania are the only Arab League states with formal ties with Israel.
(Alarabiya and Agencies)