Note that the politicians behind this move to penalise Bahrainis for contacts with Israel are Shia, and that the bill has little chance of being passed by the upper house, which is full of (Sunni) government supporters appointed by the King. Even so, who would have thought that this is the same country which appointed a Jewish woman as Bahrain's ambassador to Washington? (With thanks: Lily)
MANAMA (Reuters) - Bahrain's parliament on Tuesday approved legislation penalising 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 Shi'ite 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 normalising 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.
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.