Monday, 28 March, 2022
Israel’s Foreign Minister Yair Lapid welcomes UAE’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan upon his arrival for the Negev Summit, at Sde Boker in the southern Negev desert on March 27, 2022. (Photo by JACK GUEZ / AFP)
Tel Aviv – Nazir Magally
Six foreign ministers who met in Israel on Sunday have not yet agreed on a joint statement for the Negev Summit, which will conclude on Monday, according to political sources in Tel Aviv.
The sources noted that the officials are having difficulty overcoming the differences regarding the Iranian nuclear program, the war in Ukraine, and the Palestinian cause.
They believe there is consensus on the importance of holding the meeting itself as it brings together the foreign ministers of Israel, the United States, Egypt, the UAE, Morocco, and Bahrain.
The United States, as noted in the statements of Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, is interested in reassuring its Middle East allies that it is remaining in the region.
Washington wants to assert that its position on the Iranian nuclear agreement does not mean that it has abandoned its allies.
Israel wants to appear in a well-established international and regional position, and Arab countries want to express their concerns over the US policies without abandoning their alliance.
Blinken arrived in Israel on Saturday evening and held successive meetings with his counterpart Yair Lapid, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, President Isaac Herzog, and Defense Minister Benny Gantz.
Bennett voiced Israel’s concerns over the possibility of Washington removing Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) from its list of terror groups as it rejoins the nuclear deal with Tehran.
“The Middle East is changing, and it’s changing for the better,” Bennett said, adding: “I hope the US will hear concerned voices in the region, from Israel and others, on this issue.”
Blinken asserted that “there is no daylight” between the US and Israel on the efforts to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and countering its threats to the region.
He added that the US would maintain that stance regardless of whether a new nuclear deal is reached.
Blinken also highlighted a different position from the Israeli stance on the Palestinian issue. He asserted Washington’s support for a negotiated two-state solution.
The Secretary announced that they discussed ways to foster a peaceful Passover, Ramadan, and Easter across Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank, including working to prevent actions on all sides that could raise tensions such as settlements.
“We’re also encouraged to see members of the prime minister’s cabinet meeting with Palestinian leaders – including Defense Minister Ganz.”
He said that the US administration is “rebuilding America’s relationship with the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian people.”
Bennett responded that Israel was “working very hard to improve the lives of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza,” referring to his government’s approval of 20,000 workers from Gaza to work in Israel.
Bennett ignored the two-state solution and did not address the discussions about Jordanian efforts to include the Palestinians in the six-party meeting in the Negev.
The six ministers began their meeting on Sunday evening at a joint dinner. They are scheduled to resume talks on Monday morning.
Informed sources in Tel Aviv noted that the Israeli initiative for this meeting came within the framework of seeking to take a leading regional role and pressure the US administration in its negotiations with Iran.
Haaretz editor-in-chief Aluf Benn said the summit of foreign ministers, like the meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh last week, fulfills the vision of the initiators of the peace process 30 years ago.
“This is how Shimon Peres imagined the “new Middle East”: open partnerships between Israel and the countries of the region based on common interests, detached from the situation of the Palestinians under Israeli occupation or a comprehensive solution of the conflict.”
Benn believed the level of the participants shows that “its significance lies in its very existence” and that “no practical decisions will be made there.”
A political source in Ramallah said that Jordan rejected an Israeli proposal to join the Negev summit meeting.
Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said he was ready to participate in the Negev meeting, provided that the Palestinian Foreign Minister, Riyad al-Maliki, participated in it.
But Bennett was not thrilled about this proposal, fearing that he would appear to be involved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which he vowed to exclude from the government’s agenda.