A large delegation of officials from Israel and Arab countries are scheduled to meet Sunday in Abu Dhabi for a three-day event to prepare for the Negev Forum summit in Morocco, scheduled for as early as March
That forum has included Israel, the United States, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Egypt. Officials from all those countries are expected to convene from Sunday to Tuesday of this week.
The Israeli delegation will be led by Foreign Ministry Director-General Alon Ushpiz, who will be joined by officials from the ministries of agriculture, health tourism, energy, education, intelligence and defense.
The Negev Forum, which is designed to deepen cooperation between Israel and its Arab allies in the region, was first held in March of last year in Sde Boker in the Israeli Negev with Foreign Ministers from all the participating countries. This included US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
A steering committee meeting was held with participating countries in Bahrain in June and a Zoom meeting was held in October.
The three-day UAE meeting will include gatherings of the six working groups, on the topics of clean energy, education and coexistence, food and water security, health, regional security and tourism.
The UAE meeting takes place less than two weeks after the formation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's new government, which has already created tension with those allies.
Ben-Gvir's visit to the Al-Aqsa Mosque
At issue, in particular, has been National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir's 13-minute visit to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound on Jerusalem's Temple Mount.
The visit was globally condemned as a violation of the status quo on a site that is holy in both Judaism and Islam. Israel has insisted that it did not violate the status quo at a site in which members of all faiths can visit but only Muslims can pray.
Netanyahu's expected visit to the UAE has been delayed. Channel 12 stated that the delay was due to Temple Mount tensions, while a Netanyahu spokesman said it was due to technical reasons.
Friday's United Nations Security Council meeting to protest Ben-Gvir's visit was held at the request of the UAE and China, both of whom are members of that 15-member body.
Despite the UAE's anger over the Temple Mount visit, the Emirati Ambassador in Israel Mohamed Al Khaja hosted a dinner on Thursday in honor of newly installed Likud Foreign Minister Eli Cohen, which was also attended by the Ambassadors of the United States, Great Britain, India, France and Morocco.
US State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters in Washington on Thursday that the Biden administration was committed to the Negev Forum.
"Since the conclusion of the Negev Forum last year, the inaugural convening of the Negev Forum, it has always been our intention to bring together the Negev participants at the ministerial level for another summit," he said.
"Since the conclusion of the Negev Forum last year, the inaugural convening of the Negev Forum, it has always been our intention to bring together the Negev participants at the ministerial level."US State Department spokesman Ned Price
"Normalization between Israel and its neighbors is something that we unambiguously support. We believe it brings opportunity to the people of Israel, to the people of the region, and we seek to help Israel and its neighbors build those bridges of opportunity," Price said.
A senior US government delegation is set to travel to the United Arab Emirates on Monday for the first meeting of the Negev Forum Working Groups, the US State Department announced on Sunday.
Among the delegation will be Derek Chollet, State Department Counselor, Liz Allen, Senior Official for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, Mallory Stewart, Assistant Secretary for Arms Control, Verification and Compliance, Andrew Plitt, USAID Acting Assistant Administrator for the Bureau of the Middle East, Dr. Jay Butler, Deputy Director for Infectious Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Cindy McCain, Ambassador to the UN Food and Agriculture Agencies in Rome, Yael Lempert, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, Maura Barry, USAID Senior Deputy Assistant to the Administrator and Global Water Coordinator for the Bureau of Resilience and Food Security, Dana Stroul, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East and Laura Lochman, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Energy Diplomacy.