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Negev Forum convenes in UAE with Jordan absent from Arab-Israeli meeting

Senior officials from the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt, Morocco, the United States and Israel have convened in Abu Dhabi for the third Negev Forum steering committee meeting.
MAZEN MAHDI/AFP via Getty Images

The steering committee of the Negev Forum established last year, bringing together Israel and Arab states, opened two days of meetings in Abu Dhabi on Monday, with the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco, Egypt and the United States participating but with Jordan declining to participate in the gathering. 

The Monday meeting is the third time that the Negev Forum has convened after a June encounter in Bahrain and a virtual one in October. The participating senior officials are now preparing for the second Negev Forum summit of foreign ministers, expected to take place in Morocco this spring.

The Negev Forum was established by former Foreign Minister Yair Lapid to deepen and expand regional cooperation under the the Abraham Accords. It first met in Sde Boker, a small village and conference center in the south of Israel where the country’s first Prime Minister David Ben Gurion lived his last years.

The forum includes the United States, Israel, the four Abraham Accords signatories the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco as well as Egypt, with which Israel had signed a peace treaty in 1979. Jordan, which signed a peace agreement with Israel in 1994, declined to join the forum as long as the Palestinians also refuse to participate.

The issue came up in several discussions between US and Palestinian officials, including the July meeting between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and US President Joe Biden. Ramallah reiterated that it is not interested in joining under the current conditions. Commenting on Jordan's absence, the Israeli Foreign Ministry noted Monday that Amman has been invited to join the forum from day one and is still welcome.

The stated goal of the forum is to advance multilateral projects in a series of domains. During the inaugural meeting in March 2022, working groups were established in the fields of health, regional security, education, water and food security, tourism and energy. Each group was tasked with compiling a list of possible joint projects. As part of the preparations for the Morocco summit, the committee will examine the progress achieved so far in compiling these project lists.

The Israeli delegation to Abu Dhabi, led by Foreign Ministry Director-General Alon Ushpiz, includes senior representatives from the ministries of agriculture, health, defense, intelligence, tourism, energy, education and the economy as well as representatives of Israel’s water authority and Israel’s National Security Council.

Newly appointed Foreign Minster Eli Cohen told the delegation before its departure, "The convening of the Negev Forum working groups in the Emirates is yet another step in promoting and deepening the Abraham Accords and jointly facing common regional challenges. We will represent various projects aimed at improving the quality of life in the Middle East."

Cohen did not refer specifically to the Negev Forum in his address to the Foreign Ministry staff upon taking office. Still, reports say the topic came in his first phone call with US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken last week, with Cohen expressing his support.

US Ambassador to UN Agencies in Rome Cindy McCain, who co-chairs the American delegation to the food and water security working group, tweeted Monday, "We need more regional partners at the table to create a future where all people have the water and food they need to thrive." 

According to reports in Israel Monday, Washington is considering inviting to the Morocco summit a foreign minister of an unnamed Muslim African country that is not member of the forum.

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