Preparations continue for the next Negev Forum summit to be held in Morocco, possibly in March. Following the meeting in Manama, Bahrain's capital, last summer, delegations from member countries are meeting in Abu Dhabi to continue planning for the summit.
Senior officials from Morocco, the United Arab Emirates, Israel, Egypt, Bahrain and the United States will address key issues within the Arab-Israeli alliance in the Emirati capital, including food security and water technology, clean energy, tourism, healthcare, education and coexistence, and regional security.
As reported by Axios, US and Israeli officials explained that the aim of the meeting is to present tangible projects that will boost regional integration and cooperation. "We need to demonstrate to the people of the region that these meetings really mean something to them and that we can achieve goals that are important to the people," said a State Department official.
The source also stressed that after the first Negev summit it was "important to show" that the meeting was "more than just a meeting". "We were creating an infrastructure and a process by which we can bring tangible results to the people of the Middle East in a meaningful way," the source said.
.@StateDeptSpox: Today and tomorrow, a large delegation of senior officials from the U.S. government are attending the first meeting of the #NegevForum Working Groups in Abu Dhabi, joining representatives from the Governments of Bahrain, Egypt, Israel, Morocco, and the UAE. pic.twitter.com/1G4HlDSbs1— Department of State (@StateDept) January 9, 2023
The first summit of the Negev Forum took place at Kibbutz Sde Boker in the Israeli desert on 27-28 March 2022. It was a historic meeting that brought together for the first time on Israeli soil the Foreign Ministers of Morocco, the Emirates, Israel, Egypt and Bahrain. The summit was also attended by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
The Negev Summit aims to further strengthen ties between Israel and Arab countries in the region and to boost cooperation on key issues such as security. In this regard, the threats posed by Iran, both in terms of its nuclear ambitions and its support for armed groups in the region, have been highlighted.
.@USAID Acting Assistant Administrator Andrew Plitt will represent the U.S. in the #NegevForum Working Group meeting on tourism. We continue to work with regional partners to achieve tangible results & create opportunities to bring together people of the region. https://t.co/okS5S10o8U pic.twitter.com/U7SJFP9F85— USAID Middle East (@USAIDMiddleEast) January 9, 2023
The US and Israel hope that other Arab countries, such as Saudi Arabia and Jordan, will join the forum in the future. "The Administration has made it very clear that normalisation is a strategic goal that we are moving towards," a US official told Axios regarding Saudi Arabia and Israel.
Although normalisation of ties between the two countries is a priority for Washington, Riyadh continues to insist on the need for progress in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The head of Saudi diplomacy, Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, has gone so far as to admit that in the future "there will be full normalisation with Israel", which, according to the Saudi minister, "will bring immense benefits". However, he also stressed that "they will not be able to reap these benefits unless the Palestinian issue is not addressed". Despite this, the Saudi kingdom has endorsed the Abraham Accords and opened its airspace to Israel.
On the other hand, the notable absence of Jordan, the only Arab country with full diplomatic relations with Israel that does not participate in the forum, is due to the lack of Palestinian representation at the meetings.
The US and Egypt have repeatedly proposed to the Palestinian Authority to join the forum's working groups, but Palestinian officials have so far declined the invitation.
The recent controversial visit by Itamar Ben-Gvir, Israel's Minister of National Security, to the Temple Mount or Esplanade of the Mosques has caused some tension between the Hebrew state and its Arab neighbours. The decision by Ben-Gvir, a member of the new Israeli government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu and leader of the far-right 'Jewish Power' party, provoked an avalanche of international criticism. Even the United States, Israel's historic ally, condemned the minister's visit to the Temple Mount, the scene of frequent clashes between Israelis and Palestinians.
The United Arab Emirates, one of the Arab countries that has deepened its ties with Israel since the 2020 Abraham Accords, described Ben-Gvir's visit to the Esplanade of the Mosques as an "assault" and called for the issue to be taken up in the UN Security Council.
Bahrain, Egypt and Morocco, members of the Negev Forum, also condemned what happened. However, despite the criticism and tensions, Ben-Gvir's visit has not dampened Forum preparations or impacted on working groups. This has been confirmed by senior Israeli officials to Axios and US sources to The Times of Israel. "There have been other forums or other avenues to address recent events, but this has not influenced the preparations," they say.
Americas Coordinator: José Antonio Sierra.