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Viewing cable 09MANAMA628, BAHRAINI MPS PASS RESOLUTION AGAINST CONTACT WITH

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09MANAMA628 2009-10-28 15:03 2011-02-18 21:09 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Manama
VZCZCXRO2522
PP RUEHROV
DE RUEHMK #0628/01 3011513
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 281513Z OCT 09
FM AMEMBASSY MANAMA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 8987
INFO RUEHXK/ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY
RHBVAKS/COMUSNAVCENT  PRIORITY
RHMFISS/HQ USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL PRIORITY
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 MANAMA 000628 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/28/2019 
TAGS: PGOV PREL KDEM KPAL IS BA
SUBJECT: BAHRAINI MPS PASS RESOLUTION AGAINST CONTACT WITH 
ISRAEL 
 
Classified By: DCM Christopher Henzel for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

1.(SBU) Summary: The Islamist majority in Bahrain's elected lower house of parliament passed a resolution against contact with Israel, but the house's limited powers mean the measure is unlikely to become law. End summary.

2.(SBU) Bahrain has never had formal relations with Israel, and public contacts since March have been limited to the travel to Tel Aviv airport of Bahraini officials to facilitate the release of Bahraini Islamists detained while trying to deliver relief to Gaza in July. However, the Crown Prince's July Washington Post piece has revived public debate on Bahrain's policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and spawned many rumors.

3.(SBU) During their weekly session on October 27, Islamist MPs in the elected lower house of parliament passed a bill that, if it became law, would provide for up to five years' imprisonment and fines of up to BD 10,000 (USD 26,500) for any Bahraini in direct contact with Israel - whether with government officials, businesses, or private citizens. The draft, initiated by the Shia Wifaq party and broadly supported by Sunni Islamist blocs, would also criminalize the sale or promotion of Israeli products and travel to or through Israel. The proposal would also instruct the government to re-open the GOB's boycott office which was closed in September 2005. The measure will now go before the Shura Council (parliament's appointed upper house) for consideration. Many expect it to fail there.

4.(SBU) Even before the vote, the GOB signaled its strong opposition to the bill. Local press quoted unnamed GOB legal advisers who asserted that the measure was unconstitutional because it strayed into the purview of the King and the executive authority of the government to conduct Bahrain's foreign relations. Several members of the Shura Council have reportedly expressed their opposition to the proposal as well. The Shura Council, with all forty of its members appointed by the King, generally votes in line with the government and will almost certainly kill the measure.

5.(C) Wifaq MP Mohammed Mizal explained to poloff on October 28 that the original draft included an exception that would have allowed certain contact with Israel within the terms of existing treaty obligations and international commitments. However, Mizal said that, in the wake of the Goldstone Report and recent clashes on the Haram al-Sharif, MPs were in no mood to entertain such exceptions and stripped them from the bill. Mizal confided that he believed the proposal stood no chance in the Shura Council. "They can simply delay it or amend it, and time will run out," he said, referring to the scheduled end of the parliament in mid-2010. It was enough, he added, that "Israel will notice" the vote.

6.(C) A second Wifaq MP, Jasim Husain, told poloff that he withdrew a motion to speak in defense of the exceptions when it became apparent that there was no support. Husain is a Ph.D. economist and said he intended to outline how the bill could impinge upon Bahrain's WTO obligations absent the exceptions. Poloff noted that critics of the measure claimed that it was unconstitutional because it sought to restrict the executive's power to conduct foreign relations; Husain put up a half-hearted defense, then allowed that, "They may have a point."

7.(C) Comment: The vote reflects the sharp divide between the elites and the street on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. On the one hand, the leaders in government and business recognize that there can be no progress without some degree of interaction with Israel - witness the Crown Prince's July Washington Post op-ed. On the other hand, the Crown Prince's editorial was unpopular, and elected parliamentarians understand what plays well with their constituents. The debate in parliament was punctuated by verbose declarations of support for the Palestinian people and denunciation of Israeli "atrocities." As Mizal said, recent events have inflamed public opinion, and MPs felt the need to be seen taking action - even though he and Husain both conceded that the bill is unlikely to become law.

8.(C) Comment continued: The reality of the Bahraini parliament is that no legislation can be enacted without the government's implicit approval. The bicameral structure, with an elected lower house and an appointed Shura Council, was designed to ensure that the government, through the appointed upper house, could provide adult supervision to elected MPs. MPs cannot draft legislation, and the proposal voted upon yesterday came out of the government's drafting MANAMA 00000628 002 OF 002 office at the insistence of MPs. Knowing that it would face heavy criticism if it ignored MPs demands for draft legislation on contact with Israel, we suspect the government penned an intentionally unconstitutional draft in order to ensure that its allies in the Shura would have grounds to kill the measure and spare the King from having to veto it. ERELI