Takeaways from the Negev Summit

Photo source: New Arab

By Naveed Qazi | Editor, Globe Upfront

For further normalisation of Israel-Arab relations, Negev Summit happened in Israel in March 2022. Organised by Israel’s Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, it was a diplomatic move which would strengthen the already drafted Abraham Accords. Four Arab states, including the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco, and Egypt attended the summit.

There was a hefty dose of symbolism to the Negev Summit, beginning with its location which was in Kibbutz Sde Boker, the final home of Israel’s founding prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, who was also the first signatory of the country’s declaration of independence. 

The Negev Summit was also concomitant as it took place twenty years to the day since the adoption of the Arab Peace Initiative at the Beirut Arab League summit of 2002. That initiative, ground-breaking at the time, offered full normalisation and peace with Israel upon Israel’s acceptance of a Palestinian state and the fruition of a two-state solution.

The summit gained international prominence due to the presence of the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken. The threat of Iran and the Palestinian matter was discussed, although the Palestinian issue fell to the bottom of the agenda, with only a few participants raising their voices for a solution. This seemed in lieu of the abandonment of Palestine by many Arab states.

Due to Abraham Accords, Israel has continued to expand its settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. This summit gave another reason for Israel to widen its regional acceptance.

Surprisingly, Arab countries did not mention the Amnesty International and United Nations Human Rights Council report which has concluded that Israel is guilty of apartheid against Palestinians and crimes such as torture and collective punishment. The siege of the Gaza Strip and the economic suffering of the Gazans were also not discussed as well. It seems that occupation has become Israel’s trademark.

The late addition of Egypt to the summit also represents a major step forward in its normalisation with Israel. Israel and Egypt have maintained a cold peace since signing their original historic agreement in 1979. That peace agreement, however, was nearly in tatters when long-time Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was replaced by Mohammad Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, and several of its clauses were quickly violated. It wasn’t until the takeover by current President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi that the cold peace was re-established.

The Jordanian government was apparently invited to the summit but declined to attend, citing scheduling conflicts with its foreign minister. But, as the Negev Summit was underway, Jordan’s King Abdullah II met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, signalling Jordan’s frustration with the politics of side-lining Palestine in regional diplomacy at the summit. Saudi Arabia, at the same time, did not attend.

About Iran, the mutual fear driving the participants was the possibility that the Vienna negotiations will result in a new nuclear deal with Iran. The terms of the deal may include lifting all sanctions, recognition of Iran’s regional role, releasing an estimated $100 billion in frozen Iranian assets with compensation of up to $200 billion, and significantly, the removal of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) from the US foreign terrorist organisation list.

These potential developments are viewed as disheartening by members at the summit, who have voiced opposition to what they perceive as American softness. Thus, the summit seems to moderate future US action as well. It is because the US, under the Biden administration, is adamant to pursue JCPOA. If the members at Negev Summit fail in their strategy, the United States may end up giving Iran many more concessions. Middle Eastern countries have even expressed concerns about the Biden administration’s shift in focus from the Middle East to Asia.

Israel also hopes that the Biden administration will publicly commit to a military strike on Iran, if it withdraws from negotiations, or if it continues with its nuclear aspirations. However, till now, Washington has been unwilling to make such commitments.

One solution to confronting Iran discussed at the Negev summit was to pursue a NATO-style military alliance between regional opponents of Iran. However, Tel Aviv will likely have difficulty in building this alliance.

As per an article by Amr Hamzawy in Carnegie Endowment for International Peace: ‘Arab participants in the Negev Summit have come to see Israel in several ways: as a potential ally in regional security arrangements geared toward containing existing conflicts against the backdrop of a waning US regional role; as a partner in prioritising the development of strong economic, trade, and technological ties; and a combination of both objectives.’

The summit’s only major takeaway was confirmation at the summit to explore a future in which Washington is no longer the ultimate guarantor of security, and no longer the only recognised superpower in the Middle East.


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