Initially scheduled for March 2023 in Morocco, the second edition of this summit of the signatory countries of the Abrahamic Accords continues to be postponed. Today, nothing is certain: neither the place envisaged nor even the name of the summit.
Israeli Foreign Ministry Director General Ronen Levy visited Washington last week to discuss strengthening and expanding the Abraham Accords, according to an Axios report citing two Israeli Foreign Ministry officials. Levy was to meet with Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, White House “Mr. Middle East” Brett McGurk and President Biden’s senior advisor Amos Hochstein.
The intention is clear: the regional geopolitical state of affairs – rapprochement between Riyadh and Tehran, in particular, does not play in Israel’s favour, and it is imperative to accelerate the process of normalisation with the Arab states.
It was in this spirit of urgency that on 14 May, the American Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, met with the Moroccan Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nasser Bourita, according to a State Department press release.
On the agenda during the discussion was the examination of “regional and global developments” and the “continuous commitment to further strengthen bilateral partnerships.” On this point, the counterparts emphasised “the importance of the Negev Forum,” while this historic summit, in which Rabat participated in March 2020 and which brings together the US Secretary of State and foreign ministers of the Abraham Accords’ signatory countries, could not yet be held this year.
After the first edition, Nasser Bourita had expressed the wish for a future meeting “in a foreign desert but a familiar spirit.”
Planned for January 2023 and March, the event has already been postponed twice, while in October 2022, without the information being confirmed on the Moroccan side, Israeli television announced that the second edition of the summit would be held in Dakhla in January of the following year. This location was not by chance, as the city is located in the Western Sahara.
However, despite the Moroccan minister’s hopes, Dakhla’s choice has never been unanimous. The Americans, who recognise Moroccan sovereignty over the Sahara, are said to be “reluctant” over the idea of a Negev Forum in an area with a controversial international status.
At the same time, Rabat justifies the delay of the organisation by security constraints. “Strongly” condemning the intervention of the Israeli police in the Al-Aqsa Mosque last April, followed by the Israeli state’s attacks against the Palestinian Gaza Strip on 12 May, the kingdom points to the escalation of tensions in the Middle East.
Moreover, Morocco would like Israel to openly support the Moroccan autonomy plan. In December 2020, the kingdom became the fourth Arab country to normalise its relations with Israel, within the framework of the Abraham Accords facilitated by Washington. This does not prevent preparatory meetings for the second edition of the Negev Forum from taking place since June 2022.
On 9 January, the third and most recent meeting of the Negev Forum’s Steering Committee and Working Groups took place in Abu Dhabi. The meeting was attended by delegations from the six member states: Bahrain, Egypt, Morocco, Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and the US. This meeting followed a first meeting in Bahrain and a second, held via video conference last October.
While the event has already been postponed several times, little is actually known about the level of progress or the degree of effectiveness of this steering committee. On 16 May, the Israeli Channel 13 reported that the US had asked Israel to change the name of the “Negev Forum.”
According to them, a choice should be made that sounds “less Israeli” in order to attract more signatory countries like Jordan, which was invited but did not participate in the working groups, a request that Washington would have transmitted to the Arab member states and that Israel would be inclined to accept.
In reaction, Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid tweeted: “This withdrawal is a disgrace and this government does not understand what national pride is.” It was he who, while serving as foreign minister, initiated the inaugural Negev summit in 2020.
As a sign of goodwill on the American side, the American Secretary of State is considering appointing the former American ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, as an emissary for the Abraham Accords. The position created for him in the US State Department will allow him to replace Yael Lempert, the real kingpin of the Negev Forum, who has since been appointed ambassador to Jordan.
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