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Negev Forum highlights Arab military, economic cooperation with Israel

A steering meeting of the Negev Forum wrapped up in Abu Dhabi Tuesday with wide participation but notable absences by Jordan and the Palestinian Authority.
MAZEN MAHDI/AFP via Getty Images

The steering committee of the Negev Forum concluded meetings in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday, with around 150 representatives from the governments of Israel, Bahrain, Egypt, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates seeking to bolster long-term regional cooperation in economic trade, media relations and regional military cooperation, among other sectors.

Water and food security were highlighted as the most critical global issues following the coronavirus pandemic and amid the Ukraine-Russia war in a telephone briefing with senior officials from the US State Department. 

“We must invest in science, technology and innovation to create efficient and resilient food systems,” said Ambassador Cindy McCain, the US permanent representative to the United Nations agencies in Rome. 

“Not just in statements and at meetings but in action, and with investment to create the future that we all want," McCain added.

In the call, State Department officials said working groups met to create tangible results including direct flights, cultural and academic exchanges, expanding on the 2020 Abraham Accords agreement and incentivizing more Arab countries to join. 

State Department Counselor Derek Chollet co-chaired the regional security working group led by the United States and Bahrain. He said officials “came up with several concrete projects” to further bolster regional countries’ military capabilities and enhance information sharing in line with US Central Command’s efforts to build regional defense cooperation.

Officials on the call were circumspect on details, but cooperation on border security, the security implications of climate change, disaster preparedness and future tabletop exercises are now squarely on the agenda for future meetings, Chollet revealed in response to a question from Al-Monitor.

He also said the United States would host representatives from Negev Forum countries “in the coming months” to demonstrate “best practices” of information and data sharing by the United States — an area in which the Pentagon is still in the learning phase.

Chollet said the Negev Forum is the largest meeting between Israel and its neighbors since the Madrid Conference of 1991.

But that claim is questionable. In 2007, over 40 countries took part in the Annapolis conference attempting to shepherd peace between Palestinians and Israelis. 

At the meeting in the UAE, the Palestinians and Jordan were notably absent, with Amman skipping it in solidarity with the Palestinians, especially after tensions rose with the election of Israel’s new far-right government. 

Extreme right-wing minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, a supporter of illegal settlements in the West Bank, visited the contentious holy site in Jerusalem, drawing global condemnation, including from Amman. 

Despite Jordan’s stance, Israel’s Foreign Affairs spokesperson said that Jordan is still invited to attend the next Negev Forum.

The UAE meeting is the third time that the forum has convened after a June encounter in Bahrain and a virtual one in October. The second summit of foreign ministers is expected to take place in Morocco this spring.

Jared Szuba contributed reporting to this story.

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