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Israeli, Arab officials meet in UAE ahead of Negev Forum in Morocco

The Israeli delegation to the UAE brought together more than 20 senior officials from the fields of defense, intelligence, economy, tourism, energy, agriculture and health

The Negev Forum steering committee in Abu Dhabi, Jan. 9, 2023 (Photo: Israel Foreign Ministry)

Officials from Israel and several Arab countries met on Monday in the Emirati capital, Abu Dhabi, to prepare for the second multilateral Negev Forum summit that is expected to be held in Morocco in the spring. 

Israeli Foreign Ministry Dir.-Gen. Alon Ushpiz led the Israeli delegation to the UAE, which brought together more than 20 senior officials from the fields of defense, intelligence, economy, tourism, energy, agriculture and health. In addition, the Israeli delegation brought representatives from the country’s National Security Council and Water Authority. 

In March, the foreign ministers of the UAE, Morocco, Egypt and Bahrain met with Israel’s then-Foreign Minister Yair Lapid for a historic high-rank summit in Sde Boker in the Negev Desert. Modern Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, lived his final years in Sde Boker and is buried there. 

The visiting Arab foreign ministers represented four of the Arab states to sign peace agreements with Israel. One Arab state, which has a formal peace agreement with Israel, was absent from last year’s Negev Summit: Jordan. 

The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan opposes the Negev Forum as long as it does not include representatives of the Palestinian Authority. However, the Mahmoud Abbas-led, Ramallah-based P.A. regime opposes the Arab-Israeli normalization process and boycotts cooperation with the Israeli government. 

Consequently, Jordanian officials were also absent in Abu Dhabi, and it is highly unlikely that Jordan will attend the Negev Forum in Morocco. 

An unnamed senior U.S. official lamented the absence of Jordan from the multilateral Arab-Israeli summit. 

“There’s an empty chair at the table, because Jordan obviously has a peace agreement with Israel,” the official said. 

The Biden administration has tried to involve the P.A. in the developing Arab-Israeli cooperation efforts in the region. A senior U.S. official told The Times of Israel that the P.A. would benefit financially from these regional projects. 

“You’ll likely see projects that are not targeted specifically at the Palestinians per se, but broader regional projects that [the Palestinians] will be able to benefit from just like the other countries involved in [the forum],” the unnamed official said

Although Israel has seen progress and cooperation with its Arab partners with the Abraham Accords, the Biden administration believes the accords should not substitute for a final political solution to the conflict between Israel and the P.A. 

Jordan was the second Arab state after Egypt to sign a peace agreement with Israel. Despite the Jordanian-Israeli peace agreement being signed almost 30 years ago, Amman has preferred to keep its relations cool with Jerusalem. 

The complex relations between Amman and Jerusalem are further complicated by Jordan’s formal role as custodian of the Dome of the Rock shrine and the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The relationship also is affected by the fact that a majority of Jordan’s population consists of Arabs who hail from the western portion of the former British Mandate of Palestine. 

There have been additional personal tensions between Jordanian King Abdullah II and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In March 2021, Netanyahu canceled his scheduled trip to the United Arab Emirates after Jordan delayed permission for Netanyahu to pass through Jordanian airspace on its route to Abu Dhabi. 

Jordanian officials confirmed that the dispute was linked to the cancellation of the Jordanian crown prince’s visit to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. 

At the time, former Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz stressed the importance of Jordanian-Israeli bilateral relations. 

“Jordan is Israel’s strategic partner. The defense and diplomatic ties we share are a cornerstone of our national security approach. I wish to state clearly that Israel is committed to the agreements we share with Jordan and has the highest regard for King Abdullah and the Jordanian government,” Gantz said.

It is currently unclear how the return of Netanyahu to the Prime Minister’s Office will affect future Jordanian-Israeli diplomatic relations.

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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