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U.S., Israel and Arab states to expand cooperation in unprecedented meeting

March 28, 2022

By John Hudson

SDE BOKER, Israel — The foreign ministers of the United States, Israel and four Arab governments committed to expand economic and diplomatic cooperation in an unprecedented meeting in Israel’s southern Negev desert on Monday.

The presence of top diplomats from the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Egypt on Israeli soil showed a new level of comfort between Israel and its Arab neighbors even though the parties did not sign any binding agreements or specific policies.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken hailed the meeting as the latest indication of a realignment of Middle Eastern relations that could expand the potential for peace and conflict resolution across the region. “Just a few years ago this gathering would be impossible to imagine,” Blinken said.

Israel’s foreign minister, Yair Lapid, said the countries would strive to make the summit a yearly event.

The six-way meeting in Israel’s southern desert, dubbed the “Negev Summit,” represents the type of rapprochement the United States has long sought. 

Arab governments in attendance thanked Israel for hosting but also maintained that it must make progress on implementing a two-state solution for the Palestinians with East Jerusalem as its capital.

“Our message should be that we’re here to defend our values, to defend our interests,” said Morocco’s foreign minister, Nasser Bourita, who said the creation of a future Palestinian state was still “possible.”

“We are here to be a force of peace,” he said, a message echoed by Egypt’s foreign minister, Sameh Shoukry.

Israeli officials have hoped that external events would not distract from the meeting, including the killing of two Israeli border police and their armed assailants on Sunday 30 miles outside of Tel Aviv, heightening concerns about a return to fighting between Israelis and Palestinians.

Hamas praised the attack and linked it to the desert meeting of Arab countries. Israeli security officials described the assailants as Palestinian citizens of Israel and Islamic State sympathizers.

Lapid said acts of terrorism won’t intimidate Israel or obstruct the progress of the meeting. “They will not succeed. We will not let them,” Lapid said.

Bourita agreed, saying, “Our presence today is the best response to such attacks.”

A parallel meeting on Monday was scheduled between Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who has criticized the summit as a “harsh attack on Palestinians.” Abbas and other Palestinian leaders have long opposed the normalization agreements between Arab states and Israel as a means of relegating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the back burner.

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