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Goals of Israeli-Arab summit go beyond Iran

While the foreign ministers of Israel, the United States and four Arab Gulf nations emphasized cooperation on containing Iran, their meeting also seems aimed at boosting Israel's role in regional affairs.
Israel's Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (L) welcomes Bahrain's Minister of Foreign Affairs Abdullatif bin Rashid al-Zayani.

Foreign ministers from Israel, the United States and four Arab Gulf nations met Monday in Israel's Negev region for an unprecedented summit. While most commentary on the meeting put the focus on Iran — and Washington's effort to assure partners it would maintain a tough line on Tehran as nuclear talks wrap up in Vienna — it appears the goal of the gathering went beyond that. The summit, bringing together senior diplomats from Israel's US and Arab partners, appears to be aimed at giving regional legitimacy to Israel almost two years after the signing of the Abraham Accords.

Mofid Deak, a former US diplomat now living in Jordan, told Al-Monitor that he believes the meeting is all about showing there is a new regional coalition being formed that includes Israel. “This is the first time that Arab countries of the Abraham Accords are meeting in Israel.”

The Abraham Accords refer to a series of agreements beginning in August 2020 that normalized relations between Israel, the UAE, Bahrain and Morocco. 

While the main focus of the Negev summit was certainly supposed to be Iran, especially after the aggressive attacks by Houthis against the UAE and Saudi Arabia, Deak said he still thinks a renewed Iran deal will be reached. However, he noted, the US administration "wants to soothe the feelings of its allies." Meanwhile, Deak added, "Israel wants to show that it is not the only side opposing the deal — that there are Arabs who oppose it as well.”

Samar Muhareb, the CEO of Arab Renaissance for Democracy and Development, an Amman-based civil society organization, agrees in part with the former US diplomat. She told Al-Monitor that there is a clear strategy to involve Israel in all major issues and to present Israel as a key element in regional and even international conflict resolution. “We wish that our fellow Arab countries would not be allowed to be taken advantage of by Israel and instead should have carried out their responsibility in protecting the Palestinian areas."

Muhareb said that it is difficult not to look at the participants, the timing and the location of the summit. “It is taking place on the eve of Land Day, which comes this year as Israel is accelerating its actions against Arab lands in the Negev by putting a siege on unrecognized communities, and after Israel has declared it will establish even new settlements on confiscated Arab lands.”  Land Day, celebrated annually on March 30, commemorates the Palestinian response to Israel's expropriation of thousands of acres of land in 1976. 

Muhareb says that holding the meeting in the Negev is a provocation to millions of Arabs and goes against the efforts for peace. Muhareb thanked the Jordanian government for refusing to participate.

Yet Amer Al Sabaileh, a Jordanian political science professor and strategic analyst, had the opposite view. Speaking to Al-Monitor, he wondered aloud “why Jordan, which follows a pragmatic political discourse, did not participate in the Sharm el-Sheikh Israeli-Egyptian-UAE summit last week, or [today's] foreign minister’s meeting in which the US is participating with members of the Abraham Accords coalition."

Sabaileh said that Jordan is concerned about the situation on the ground in Jerusalem and therefore it needed to be in contact with both Morocco and the United States. “I believe Jordan should have participated due in part to the presence of the Moroccan participation since Morocco’s king is a key person in the discussion on the future of Jerusalem."

Sabaileh is also concerned about Jordan missing the discussion that will deal with the Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia and the UAE, as well as discussing all post-Ukraine scenarios in the region.

For his part, Jordan’s king, the crown prince, the prime minister and other top Jordanian officials made an official visit to the Palestinian presidency in Ramallah.

While the Negev meeting was scheduled to include Arab foreign ministers of the Abraham Accords, Egypt’s foreign minister also joined the meeting.

Ahmed Samih, head of the Egyptian Andalus Institute for Tolerance and Anti-Violence Studies, told Al-Monitor the Egyptian leadership has reached the conclusion that it cannot resolve its problems locally and so it has started to seek outside help. “The leadership in Egypt now wants solutions on the international level, especially in terms of the import of wheat and oil,” which has been significantly impacted by Russia's invasion of Ukraine. “As a result, the United Arab Emirates has filled the vacuum to help resolve the financial crunch that the Egyptian economy is experiencing as Cairo has been unable to pay back some of its debts.”

Hamas and other Palestinian factions, as well as many political leaders, issued strong statements saying it was surprised about the participation of Arab foreign ministers in the Negev summit. However, it was clear that many — especially Palestinian officials and those in their orbit — tried to walk a thin line between condemning the meeting while trying not to upset the many Arab countries represented in the Negev.

The final communique of the Negev meeting appears to indicate that Israeli-Arab official meetings will become the norm in the future and that they are planning on building on the conference in the long term.