Lawmakers and opposition activists in Bahrain on Thursday slammed the foreign minister of the Gulf state, a staunch U.S. ally, after he called for a regional grouping of Arabs and historic foe Israel.
"The minister should revoke his remarks... If he doesn't, he will have to answer members of parliament," Jalal Fayruz, an MP for the opposition Islamic National Accord Association (INAA), the main Shiite political formation, told AFP.
Foreign Minister Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmad al-Khalifa proposed the creation of the regional bloc, which would also include Iran and Turkey, in an interview published on Wednesday.
"Israel, Iran, Turkey and Arab states should sit together in one organization," he was quoted as saying by the pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat.
"Aren't we all members of a global organization called the United Nations? Why not (come together) on a regional basis? This is the only way to solve our problems. There's no other way to solve them, now or in 200 years."
Bahrain hosts the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet and has a free trade agreement with Washington.
Crown Prince Sheikh Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa met Israeli officials during World Economic Forum summits in 2000 and 2003, while Sheikh Khaled met Israeli counterpart Tzipi Livni at the United Nations last year.
But political groupings in Bahrain oppose any normalization of ties with Israel.
Sheikh Khaled's proposal serves "U.S. plans to integrate Israel in the region," said Muslim Brotherhood MP Nasser al-Fadhala.
Ibrahim al-Sharif, secretary general of the National Democratic Action Association (NDAA), an opposition alliance of leftists and pan-Arab nationalists, said "parliament must hold the minister accountable."
Hasan Madan of the leftist Democratic Progressive Forum Association said: "With Israel occupying Arab lands and no prospect (of a breakthrough) in its negotiations with the Palestinians, bringing Israel into an organization with the Arabs will encourage further aggression and occupation."
Political associations act as de facto parties in Bahrain, where political parties remain banned.