Negev Summit excludes Palestinians but puts Israeli-Palestinian peace back into political consciousness

Israeli PM Bennett, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and UAE Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan met in the Sinai resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh for a first-ever trilateral summit of Israeli, Egyptian, and Emirati leaders. Days later, the FMs of Israel, Egypt, UAE, Bahrain, and Morocco convened in Israel’s Sde Boker for the “Negev Summit”, facilitated by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Though discussions at both forums focused primarily on bolstering regional unity against Iran, Arab diplomats used the summit to reiterate support for the two-state solution.

In their closing remarks, the FMs of Morocco, Egypt, the UAE, and Bahrain all highlighted the importance of reviving the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and ensuring the viability of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. Announcing the Negev Summit as a permanent regional security forumIsraeli FM Yair Lapid invited Palestinians to join the new Middle East, while Blinken stressed that progress within the framework of the Abraham Accords is not a substitute for progress on the Palestinian front. Blinken travelled to Ramallah to meet with Abbas on the eve of the summit, vowing to continue to work to bring Israelis and Palestinians closer to peace.

Though critics panned the Negev Summit’s lack of Palestinian representation and dismissed references to Israeli-Palestinian peace in closing remarks as little more than lip-service, the summit’s impact on local, regional, and international discourse (for better or for worse) should not be overlooked. With the eyes of the world watching, criticism of the summit and the public statements delivered by Arab ministers at its closing thrust the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and two-state solution back into political consciousness at a time when the world is largely pre-occupied with Iran, Russia, and Ukraine.

In Israel, opposition lawmakers immediately lambasted public pressure on the Palestinian conflict. The right’s disproportionate focus on Arab leaders’ statements in support of the Palestinians (which were widely anticipated) reflects a growing sense of panic in response to the Israeli government’s ongoing bi-lateral engagement with Palestinian officials and public overtures by the Arab world which invigorated an Israeli discourse that is embracing the spirit of a broad regional peace that will eventually include the Palestinians.

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