Negev summit reimagining Israel’s role in the Middle East

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Jess Diez
Managing Editor & Research Associate, Middle East Policy Council


On Sunday, March 27, foreign ministers of the United Arab Emirates, Morocco, Bahrain, and Egypt arrived in Israel for a two-day summit. The Arab representatives gathered together with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid. The Negev Summit is the first Israel summit in history with four Arab country representatives, symbolizing an immense shift in Middle Eastern politics. The meeting focused on regional concerns regarding Iran’s nuclear power, the likelihood of an updated nuclear deal, and condemnation of recent heightened terrorism within the region.

Writing for the Jerusalem Post, Herb Keinon notes the significance of the summit’s location residing in Israel rather than in Sharm e-Sheikh, Egypt, a traditional venue for these types of events. Keinon states his strong disagreement with Amnesty International, which declares Israel an apartheid state, and inversely, sees the summit as a historical event, in which the summit “taking place in Sde Boker, the post-prime-ministerial residence of David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s founding father and someone who can be rightly termed Mr. Zionism is nothing less than stunning and a powerful message. Just as Amnesty International and organizations of its ilk are strenuously trying to make Zionism illegitimate and turn it into a dirty word, much of the Arab world is coming to grips with it. Not, of course, because of any great sympathy for what it represents, but rather because of the recognition that in a hate-filled region full of malevolent actors with medieval ideologies, Israel is a relatively benign actor. Compared with Iran, moreover, it is downright benevolent. And it is this well-disposed – and powerful – actor with whom these Arab states realize it is in their interests to cooperate.”

In addition to the meeting’s location, Mohammed al-Shamaa, writing for Arab News, placed importance on the timing of the meeting. With Ramadan beginning next month, tensions are typically increased within Israeli-Palestinian relations, and peace-related talks hope to deter further major clashes, as well as the recently escalating Iranian attacks. Bennet stated: “‘while we are talking about peace, there are parties that do not stop fanning the flames of war. And we got another reminder of that when the Houthis, acting as a proxy for the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, launched an attack targeting Saudi Arabia’…The summit was held five days after a meeting in Sharm El-Sheikh between the leaders of Egypt, Israel and the UAE, and two days after a summit in Aqaba that brought together Egypt’s president, Jordan’s king, the UAE crown prince and Iraq’s prime minister.”

The Arab News piece further dove into the Summit’s main focus regarding regional foe Iran. Israeli Foreign Minister Lapid said, “Iran is not an Israeli problem, as the entire world cannot afford Iran to become a nuclear power. We will take all possible actions to confront the danger of Iran’s nuclear program,” adding that “Israel will cooperate with the US to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, despite their differences over an imminent nuclear deal with Tehran.”

Lazar Berman and Aaron Boxerman, both writing for the Times of Israel, point out the progress made from the Summit, in which the diplomats of Israel, four Arab nations, and the US declared the meeting as the first step of a permanent regional forum to promote regional security against shared foe Iran: “Blinken praised the growing economic ties, solar energy deals, and diplomatic forums taking places across the region in recent months as a result of the normalization between Israel and Arab states. Blinken pledged that the US will continue to support and help grow the accords, hailing “a new dawn,” and assured those present that the US would help its allies confront common enemies in the region, including Iran. However, the US secretary of state was careful to stress that the accords are not a substitute for progress on the Palestinian front, and he promised to work to see Palestinian and Israelis enjoying “equal measures” of prosperity, dignity, and security.”

On the Summit’s second day, March 28, Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid believed that the meeting had opened a door for everyone in the region, including the Palestinians. However, Ariel Kahana, Israel Hayom’s senior diplomatic correspondent, showed varying degrees of acceptance within the attendees: “US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday said Washington and its allies will work together to confront security challenges and threats including from Iran and its proxies…Blinken also said Washington would continue to support the normalization process between Israel and Arab countries, but added that this should not be a substitute for peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Morocco’s foreign minister said on Monday his presence alongside three Arab counterparts at an Israeli-hosted summit was the “best response” to attacks such as an Islamic State-linked shooting spree in Israel, which he condemned as terrorism.”

Haaretz contributor Jack Khoury further points out that the Palestinian question was discussed prior to the start of the historical talk. Khoury highlights Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas asking the Biden administration to discuss West Bank settlement expansion, in hopes to stop settler aggression: According to Abbas, the international political action following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine exposed a double standard when compared with the issue of Israeli occupation, which has not received the same attention or demands of accountability. Speaking alongside Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in Israel earlier on Sunday, Blinken called on Israel to take steps to de-escalate tensions with the Palestinians, including curbing settlement expansion, settler violence and halting evictions of Palestinians from their homes, in the run-up to Ramadan?”

Discussed further in Haaretz, the lack of Palestinian representation in the Negev Summit has been marked by other Arab countries such as Jordan and Saudi Arabia, two countries that did not join the talks: “In an initial reaction to the foreign ministers’ summit in Israel, in which the Palestinians will not be participating, the Palestinian Foreign Ministry said that Israel is ignoring the Palestinian issue and deepening the occupation. A statement by the ministry alleged that Israel is attempting to create a false impression by focusing on Iran and the emerging nuclear agreement with the goal of crushing the Palestinian issue and removing it from the international agenda. The Palestinian Foreign Ministry called on the participating countries to ‘pay attention to the conduct of Israel and what it is doing in the occupied territories.’”

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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