The visuals from last week’s Negev Summit were impressive. They were also historic. Leaders from Israel, Bahrain, Egypt, Morocco, the United Arab Emirates and the United States met at Kibbutz Sde Boker in the Negev desert, where Israel’s founding prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, lived and is buried. Such a meeting would have been inconceivable two short years ago. And yet, following entry into the Abraham Accords and the rapid-paced progress toward normalization of relationships between Israel and her treaty partners, such steps in continued cooperative activities between Accords partners have begun to seem natural — maybe even routine.
But the Negev Summit was much more than a cooperative photo opportunity or symbolic meeting. For Israel, in particular, the summit had two key objectives. One was the meeting between Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Secretary of State Antony Blinken that focused on the Iran nuclear talks. Reports indicate that the meeting involved some interesting exchanges, including a request from Blinken that Prime Minister Naftali Bennett explain the details of his alternative approach. The other was the foreign ministers meeting of Lapid, Blinken, the UAE’s Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan, Bahrain’s Abdullatif bin Rashid al-Zayani, Morocco’s Nasser Bourita and Egypt’s Sameh Shoukry, in which discussions included the threat from Iran, the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact of the war in Ukraine on the oil and food supply chains, among other issues.
In the words of Bennett, the Negev Summit moved the Abraham Accords from “ceremony to substance.” And progress was made. Among other things, participants established six working groups designed to deal with issues of security and counterterrorism, food and water, health, energy, education and tourism. Summit participants also agreed to make the gathering a recurring event.
Over the past two years we have seen impressive steps toward the normalization of security and political relations between Israel and Abraham Accords partners and the establishment of a number of very promising economic and technological engagements. The Negev Summit sought to expand those efforts by fostering cooperation on a number of issues that go beyond Iran and trade. That further engagement by the regional partners is another positive sign for the stability of Accords relationships going forward.
The fate of the Palestinians was only barely addressed during the summit. Although several speakers made statements about the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and Palestinian statehood, very little of substance was addressed and the spoken words appeared to be nothing more than lip service. Perhaps new opportunities to address the issue will come up in the context of other cooperative consultations.
Nonetheless, we applaud the Negev Summit. It was refreshing to see Israel and Arab countries addressing issues other than security, and we are optimistic about the multi-tiered possibilities for the planned regional efforts and partnerships. Finally, we hope that the success of the summit will help attract others to join in the growth opportunities offered by the Abraham Accords.