"I hope to see you soon in another desert," Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita said at the press conference that closed the first Negev Summit in Israel. The reference was easily interpreted as an invitation to hold the next meeting of the Israeli-Arab alliance in Western Sahara, in order to reinforce international support for Morocco's sovereignty claims.
At the end of June, the same allies met in Bahrain's capital, Manama, to prepare for the next summit. Bourita's invitation still stands. According to the official communiqué of the meeting, the meeting served to define the tasks of the working groups. The next Negev Summit 2.0 will seek to strengthen cooperation and the exchange of experiences between Morocco, the United Arab Emirates, Israel, the United States, Bahrain and Egypt.
According to a statement, the meeting in Manama resulted in the approval of a roadmap that includes six working groups in the areas of renewable energy, education and peaceful coexistence, food security, health, regional security and tourism. The working groups are scheduled to meet regularly throughout the year to report back to the Summit Coordinating Committee.
A follow-up to the first summit in March, the Negev is a sign of the success of Arab countries and Israel in creating and strengthening a front against Iran at a time when the US is increasingly distancing itself from the region. The next meeting is scheduled for 2023, and although it has not been made official that it will be in Dakhla, Minister Bourita's remarks raise speculation.
Locating this important group of countries with their institutions and representatives of each government in Dakhla would be a strong communication asset for the Kingdom of Morocco, which celebrates in style every time consulates are opened in the Sahara, which it has administered for several decades. Since the Trump administration opened its own in 2019, a long list of countries have followed suit.
Moroccan diplomacy moves like a fish in water in these seas. Its diplomatic hyperactivity is bearing fruit, especially with Israel, with whom it has concluded important agreements on defence, the economy and tourism. Members of the Hebrew government have visited Rabat in succession, from Benny Gantz to Orna Barbivai, including the head of the interior ministry, Ayelet Shaked.
Morocco would use this goodwill to try to give the Palestinian authorities a seat at the Negev negotiations. The Moroccan daily Le Desk reports that Morocco's foreign ministry, along with Egypt's, would be the main supporters of Palestine vis-à-vis the other members of the Negev club.
In Morocco, King Mohammed VI chairs the Al-Qods Committee, a commission of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in charge of studying the evolution of the situation of Muslims in Jerusalem, implementing the resolutions adopted by the Islamic Conference on this issue and, in short, looking after the welfare and rights of the Muslim community in the Holy City.
According to the Moroccan daily Le Desk, which cites information from the Times of Israel, Morocco, together with Egypt, "would have lobbied for Palestine's participation in the forum".
In response to the news, the daily Jeune Afrique, through its diplomatic sources, believes that it is a "news probe" deliberately leaked by the Israeli government to obtain public feedback on the issue.
The Palestinian authorities claimed last March that the Negev Summit in Israel was a strategy by Naftali Bennet's government to dodge the Palestinian issue, and were never willing to participate in this Forum. "This Israeli mobilisation [Negev Forum] is aimed at covering up its actions to deepen settlement expansion and creeping annexation, Judaise Jerusalem and prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state," the Palestinian foreign minister said after a meeting with Blinken prior to the Negev Forum.
While Palestinian participation remains up in the air, Morocco's reported efforts to include Mahmoud Abbas in a future Negev Forum would be a further step towards concord and would put on the table the issue that has long distanced Arab countries from the state of Israel.
Americas Coordinator: José Antonio Sierra.