Israel boosts ties with Arab allies, Palestinians not included

Arab countries call for deeper relations with Israel at summit, despite continued Israeli occupation of Palestine.

Arab foreign ministers meet in Israel
After meeting for the Naqab Summit, Bahrain's foreign minister Abdullatif bin Rashid al-Zayani, left, Egypt's foreign minister Sameh Shoukry, Israel's foreign minister Yair Lapid, United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Morocco's foreign minister Nasser Bourita, and United Arab Emirates' foreign minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, pose for a photograph [Jacquelyn Martin/AP Photo]

Israel hosted the foreign ministers of four Arab nations and the United States in a bid to strengthen its position in a rapidly shifting Middle East.

The gathering brought together the top diplomats from all but one of the Arab countries that have normalised relations with Israel in US-mediated negotiations, including three that signed agreements with Israel during the Trump administration in 2020.

Meeting at a resort in the southern Naqab (Negev) region near the tomb of Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, the ministers and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken pledged to expand cooperation to include energy, environmental and security matters and try to bring others into the agreements.

The Palestinians were not invited to the summit, despite their ongoing occupation at the hands of Israel being a central feature of Arab-Israeli relations for the last 50 years.

“Just a few years ago this gathering would have been impossible to imagine,” Blinken said. “The United States has and will continue to strongly support a process that is transforming the region and beyond.”

The UAE and Bahrain formed ties with Israel under the Abraham Accords, brokered by former US President Donald Trump. Morocco then re-established relations with Israel under a separate Trump-brokered agreement.

“We are here today because we genuinely, sincerely and deeply believe in peace,” Morocco’s Nasser Bourita said. “Not that kind of passive peace where we turn our backs to each other and peacefully ignore each other.”

“We believe in a thorough, fruitful, paradigm-shaping, and value-creating peace in this region,” he added.

Jordan was the only Arab country to have normalised relations with Israel to not attend the summit. The country’s King Abdullah instead visited the Israeli-occupied West Bank in solidarity with the Palestinians.

Alliance against Iran

The gathering comes as the Biden administration has been working to renew the 2015 international nuclear deal with Iran. The agreement placed curbs on Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for billions of dollars in sanctions relief.

All the ministers expressed misgivings over Iranian behaviour across the region and the possible renewal of the international nuclear accord with Iran.

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said the group was “making history” as he announced the gathering would become an annual event.

“Creating a new regional architecture intimidates and deters our common enemies, first and foremost Iran,” Lapid said.

“They certainly have something to fear.”

The opening roundtable begins at the Negev Summit
The opening roundtable begins at the Negev Summit, as Israel’s Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, clockwise from left, makes opening remarks with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, United Arab Emirates’ foreign minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Morocco’s foreign minister Nasser Bourita, Egypt’s foreign minister Sameh Shoukry, and Bahrain’s foreign minister Abdullatif bin Rashid al-Zayani, March 28, 2022, in Sde Boker, Israel [Jacquelyn Martin/AP Photo]

Al Jazeera’s senior political analyst Marwan Bishara said the summit is a reflection of the two worlds of rhetoric and reality.

“The rhetoric was singing Kumbaya,” he said. “The reality is people living under occupation. We have four Arab ministers who wouldn’t even dare go to the occupied Palestinian territory, partly out of shame and partly out of guilt, because they are normalising relations on the back of Palestinians.”

The reason for the meeting, Bishara went on to say, is that Israel, the US, and the four Arab countries want to form an axis against Iran.

“What they are preparing for behind the podium is a new cold war,” he said.

Palestinian Authority excluded

Meanwhile, Palestinians were notable absentees in the summit.

The Biden administration has urged Israel and the Palestinians to take steps to reduce tensions and create conditions for eventually renewing peace talks. But it has made it clear that it has no immediate plans to press the sides to renew negotiations.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who heads a patchwork coalition of parties that have little in common, has said he opposes a Palestinian state and has no intention to restart peace talks. Instead, he has called for steps to improve economic conditions for the Palestinians to help reduce tensions and maintain calm.

Al Jazeera’s Nida Ibrahim said for Palestinians, these talks “seem like a luxury” as long as they are under occupation.

“The discussions that Palestinians want on the table now are not discussions about diffusing tension or having better life conditions for Palestinians, but rather they want to engage in a peace process that ends the occupation and leads Palestinians towards a state,” she said, speaking from the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah.

Ibrahim went on to say that there is a lot of disappointment amongst Palestinians watching Arab nations normalize relations with Israel and attending meetings and summits there.

“There is a feeling that while the Arab nations are with the Palestinians, they feel betrayed by the Arab regimes,” she said.

Jordan’s King Abdullah, whose government declined to participate in the foreign ministers’ meeting, instead visited the Israeli-occupied West Bank in solidarity with the Palestinians.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies