Negev Forum not a substitute for Israeli-Palestinian peace, US says

The officials met to design regional projects in six categories: clean energy, tourism, healthcare, food security and water technology, education and coexistence, and regional security.

 Representatives for the six Negev Forum countries are seen at the working group meeting in Abu Dhabi in the UAE. (photo credit: FOREIGN MINISTRY)
Representatives for the six Negev Forum countries are seen at the working group meeting in Abu Dhabi in the UAE.
(photo credit: FOREIGN MINISTRY)

The normalization of Israeli ties with its Arab neighbors is not a substitute for peace with the Palestinians, the United States said Tuesday as it wrapped up a Negev Forum meeting with five Middle East countries, including Israel.

“We do not see this as a substitute for Israeli-Palestinian peace.”

Derek Chollet

“We do not see this as a substitute for Israeli-Palestinian peace,” US State Department Counselor Derek Chollet told reporters in a virtual briefing about the unusual three-day meeting of 150 officials in Abu Dhabi.

Participants came from the six Negev Forum countries: the US, Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Egypt.

“It was the largest meeting between Israel and its regional partners since the Madrid summit in 1991,” Chollet said.

 The Negev Forum meets for a working groups meeting in the UAE. (credit: UAE FOREIGN MINISTRIES) The Negev Forum meets for a working groups meeting in the UAE. (credit: UAE FOREIGN MINISTRIES)

What was discussed at the Negev Forum meeting?

The officials met to design regional projects in six categories: clean energy, tourism, healthcare, food security and water technology, education and coexistence, and regional security.

The Jordanians were invited to be part of the forum, but they have yet to join.

The Palestinian Authority was also not present, with Israel explaining that it had not been invited and the United States explaining that the PA had been issued an invitation. 

Neither the Palestinian Authority nor the Jordainians participated in the original Negev Forum of foreign ministers that met in Israel last March or in the lower-level meeting in June. As part of this week’s gathering, plans were drawn up for another meeting of foreign ministers in March in Morocco.

US officials told reporters the interests of the Palestinians were included in the regional projects that were discussed during the forum’s working groups.

“When it comes to the Palestinians, we have been very clear,” Chollett said. “While we fully support the normalization of relations between Arab and Muslim-majority countries and Israel,” this is not a substitute for peace with the Palestinians. If anything, normalization should be leveraged to advance progress on the Israeli-Palestinian track and to improve the lives of Palestinians.”

“While we fully support the normalization of relations between Arab and Muslim-majority countries and Israel,” this is not a substitute for peace with the Palestinians. If anything, normalization should be leveraged to advance progress on the Israeli-Palestinian track and to improve the lives of Palestinians.”

Derek Chollet

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who later released a statement about the forum meeting, said Israel’s ties with its Arab neighbors “can be harnessed to create momentum in Israeli-Palestinian relations, towards a negotiated resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and as part of efforts to achieve a just, lasting, and comprehensive peace.”

The meeting displayed the regional progress that can be made when Israel is included as a recognized member of the Middle East community. But it came precisely at a time when the Israeli government has sanctioned the PA for its support of terrorist attacks and diplomatic warfare against the Jewish state.

Chollet said he hoped the progress made at the forum would inspire other countries to join.

US Ambassador to UN Agencies Cindy McCain said conversations were held on how to improve food and water security in the region.

Providing safe food and water is the most important global issue of our time, she said, adding that problems had been exacerbated by the Russian-Ukrainian war, COVID-19, climate change and regional conflicts.

“We need a united global effort to save lives and tackle the roots of hunger,” McCain said. “We must invest in science, technology and innovation to create efficient and resilient food systems for the future.”

Foreign Ministry Director-General Alon Ushpiz, who headed Israel’s delegation, thanked the UAE for hosting the event, which he said was an important step in facing regional challenges through cooperation.•