Morocco will not host a second Negev Forum if Israel continues the expansion of settlements and anti-Palestinian violence. Moroccans require actions, not words; otherwise, Rabat will wait.
On Sunday, June 25, Eli Cohen, Israel’s foreign minister, postponed the forum – his clarification juxtaposed a previous release that the Moroccan-hosted summit would be canceled. Given the recent bouts of violence coupled with the newly updated and approved plans for expanded settlement construction in the West Bank, the delegation responsible for putting on the event remains hesitant.
Arab individuals are also displeased with the Israeli-Arab normalization process. Public opinion among the community calls for a broader regional “integration” that includes the Palestinians.
Postponement is not a guise for broken or breaking relations between Israel and its Arab partners – it’s a matter of precedent. Relations are growing and should continue to grow with roots in common interests in security, diplomacy, and business, combined with shared values and interfaith relations.
The present Israeli policies in the Occupied Territories, Gaza, and more generally toward the Palestinian people and international law contradict the spirit of regional cooperation set by the first Negev Forum and increase the fragility of this interaction framework.
Why has the atmosphere, which was warm and cordial at the March 2022 Forum, deteriorated so quickly? The decision to build new settlements and ease the red tape for constructing them are at the forefront of the recent languishment of Arab-Israeli relations.
The Arab World also remains concerned about right-wing legislative reform in Israel, which infringes on the rights of Arab Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank. There was an expectation in the Arab World that large-scale settlement expansion in, and rampant annexation of, the West Bank were to be stopped after the first Abraham Accords in September 2020 between Israel, the Emirates, and Bahrain.
So will Morocco host a second Negev Forum under these conditions? The chances are slim as long as the present coalition led by Benjamin Netanyahu holds power and includes pro-settlements and fiercely anti-Palestinian cabinet ministers such as Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich.
For the first time since 2020, Israeli helicopters struck Jenin last month, killing Palestinian militants and citizens. This past week, the Israeli army conducted a second operation in Jenin, with more casualties on both sides.
Moroccans still have solidarity with Palestinians
MOROCCAN PUBLIC interest and concern for the Palestinian issue is growing. On June 22, Lavieeco.com, a media owned by Prime Minister Aziz Akhannouch, announced their intention to hold a Moroccan Conference on Palestine in July – while more details have not been released, the event is understood to be held in solidarity with Palestine and centered around the participation of Arab and African countries.
The gap created by this Israeli government’s policies emphasizes the need to rethink the nature of the Negev Forum. What kind of forum should this US-Israeli-Arab conference become? Probably a diplomatic gathering with less of a focus on Israel (and the Negev) but a more inclusive one with the words “Middle East” or the acronym “MENA” for Middle East North Africa, and finally, the words “peace” and “development.” That is the easy part with which even Eli Cohen will likely agree.
The new framework should also include new actors that correspond with the goal of promoting peace. Jordanians could be an important addition if their conditions are met, but even more important are the Palestinians. Their inclusion would allow Rabat, Cairo, Abu Dhabi, and Manama to show they care and defend Palestinian interests.
Equally as important, however, is showing that the diplomats in Rabat and Cairo can bring Israelis and Palestinians, Israelis and Arabs, around the same table. Like in the “old good days.” Like the Camp David Accords, the Madrid Conference, and the Oslo Accords. It is imperative that we bring back the notion of discussing tangible solutions aimed at peace to make history and rewrite the course of our future.
Will the Palestinians sit across the table with Israelis in Morocco while their neighbors and families in the West Bank are subjected to violence by the army and settlers? Most likely not.
What about the other side of the table? Does the present Israeli government even want a second Negev Forum to be held? This question is especially relevant considering the terms set by Morocco for this meeting to take place. Is Israel ready to formally recognize Moroccan sovereignty over its southern provinces, understanding that it won’t be in exchange for diluting the Moroccan position on the Palestinian issue?
Under Netanyahu, the Israeli government, with its settlement expansion and brutal military and security agenda in the region, is catering to its domestic allies and fooling its foreign partners.
Public opinion in the Arab world may be silent, but it is watching and closely following events. The latest postponement of the Negev Forum should not have come as a surprise, and there may be a fourth postponement if violence persists in the West Bank and the Israeli government approves new settlement activity.
The author is a Moroccan journalist and writer. He is a guest contributor to Mitvim Institute and recently published (in French) Le Maroc, Israël et les Juifs marocains – Morocco, Israel and Moroccan Jews (Bibliomonde, Paris).