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Announcing permanent regional forum, Israel, Arab states laud alliance, decry terror

At Negev Summit, Lapid says Iran and proxies ‘certainly have something to fear’; diplomats from US, Egypt, Morocco, Bahrain highlight necessity of advancing peace with Palestinians

After meeting for the Negev Summit, Bahrain's Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid al-Zayani, left, Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, Israel's Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, U.S. 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 Monday, March 28, 2022, in Sde Boker, Israel. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, Pool)
After meeting for the Negev Summit, Bahrain's Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid al-Zayani, left, Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, Israel's Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, U.S. 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 Monday, March 28, 2022, in Sde Boker, Israel. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, Pool)

SDE BOKER, Negev Desert — At their historic summit in the Israeli Negev town of Sde Boker on Monday, the top diplomats of Israel, the US and four Arab nations announced that the conference would be the first iteration of a permanent regional forum, as they reaffirmed the importance of growing ties between Israel and the broader Middle East.

The foreign ministers of Israel, Egypt, Bahrain, Morocco, and the United Arab Emirates and the US secretary of state all condemned terrorism, a day after an attack in the city of Hadera in which two Border Police officers were shot dead.

The unprecedented gathering was widely seen as an attempt by Israel and its Arab allies to create a front against shared regional foe Iran. Israeli officials told reporters on the scene that the talks centered around creating a “regional security architecture,” among other issues.

At a joint press conference of all six diplomats following the meetings, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid told reporters that the so-called Negev Summit would become “a permanent forum.”

He said the confab was building “a new regional architecture based on progress, technology, religious tolerance, security and intelligence cooperation.

“This new architecture, the shared capabilities we are building, intimidates and deters our common enemies – first and foremost Iran and its proxies,” he said.

“They certainly have something to fear.”

Morocco’s Nasser Bourita, Bahrain’s Abdullatif bin Rashid Al-Zayani, UAE’s Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Egypt’s Sameh Shoukry, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and staff at a summit for foreign ministers at the Kedma Hotel in Sde Boker, March 28, 2022 (Foreign Ministry/GPO)

Lapid stressed that all the guests at the summit condemned the attack.

“It was murder for the sake of murder, terror for the sake of terror,” he said.

The minister said that while the terrorists wish to sow disunity and prevent peace, “they will not succeed.” He pledged that he will continue on the “path of peace.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken lauded the summit, saying that “once-impossible things have become possible.”

(L to R) Israel’s Foreign Minister Yair Lapid delivers opening remarks during a roundtable alongside US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Sde Boker in the Negez Desert on March 28, 2022 (Jacquelyn MARTIN / POOL / AFP)

Blinken praised the growing economic ties, solar energy deals, and diplomatic forums taking places across the region in recent months as a result of the normalization between Israel and Arab states.

Blinken pledged that the US will continue to support and help grow the accords, hailing “a new dawn,” and assured those present that the US would help its allies confront common enemies in the region, including Iran.

However, the US secretary of state was careful to stress that the accords are not a substitute for progress on the Palestinian front, and he promised to work to see Palestinian and Israelis enjoying “equal measures” of prosperity, dignity, and security.

Emirati chief diplomat Abdullah bin Zayed al Nahyan hailed the American role in helping the Sde Boker summit come to pass. He also called the conference a blow against the terror attack in Hadera.

After meeting for the Negev Summit, United Arab Emirates’ Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, center, leaves the room after posing for a group photograph March 28, 2022, in Sde Boker, Israel. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, Pool)

Al Nahyan praised warming ties between Israel and the broader Middle East.

“It’s new for Abdullatif and Nasser and I to be in Israel,” al Nahyan said, referring to his fellow Arab foreign ministers. “Even though Israel has been in this region for a very long time, this is our first time. We haven’t known one another.”

Al Nahyan implied the need to correct history in long decades without relations. Egypt, he said, “showed us leadership 43 years ago” in legitimizing Israel — an Israel, he stressed, that “has been part of this region for a very long time.”

“We lost those 43 years,” he said, looking at Shoukry. Now, “we are just trying to follow your footsteps.”

Almost every visiting foreign minister, including Blinken, opened their remarks by condemning the terror attack in Hadera. The ministers had also condemned the attack as news of it reached Sde Boker on Sunday night.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (C-R) walks alongside his Bahraini counterpart Abdullatif bin Rashid al-Zayani during the Negev summit in Sde Boker on March 28, 2022. (Jacquelyn MARTIN / POOL / AFP)

“I think our presence here today [in Sde Boker] is the best response to such attacks,” said Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita.

Bourita reemphasized Rabat’s support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, adding that any possible solution must also respect Israeli security interests.

Morocco’s decision to recognize Israel “is not an opportunistic move,” he stressed, emphasizing the depth of the ties between the two nations. He noted the large community of Israelis who had immigrated from Morocco, and added he’d just found out that the two mayors of Negev towns Yeruham and Dimona were of Moroccan origin.

Morocco’s Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita poses for a photo following the Negev Summit in the Israeli kibbutz of Sde Boker, on March 28, 2022 (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani opened his remarks by condemning “the terror attack” in Hadera.

Al Zayani said recent events, such as the Houthi militia attacks in Saudi Arabia and Yemen, as well as the need to “resolve the Iranian nuclear file,” made the need to join forces more urgent.

Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid al-Zayani greets attendees of the Negev Summit in Sde Boker on March 28, 2022. (Jacquelyn MARTIN / POOL / AFP)

The diplomat said that the process must also include efforts to provide a “viable state” for the Palestinians.

The main exception at the press conference was Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, who offered a general condemnation of terrorism without specifically citing the attack in Hadera.

Shoukry in his comments spoke extensively about the Palestinian issue. At times he appeared to scold the Israeli side, warning against “unilateral activity” to disturb “calm” during the coming Ramadan month.

Nonetheless, Shoukry also called the meetings “constructive and in-depth.”

Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri leaves following the Negev Summit in the Israeli kibbutz of Sde Boker, on March 28, 2022 (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

The discussions Monday morning at the Negev Summit dealt directly with the security challenges facing the countries gathered at Sde Boker, senior Israeli Foreign Ministry official Oded Yosef told reporters.

Those challenges include those posed by Iran and its armed proxies, he said.

“It was a very open, honest conversation about real problems, and how we deal with them together,” he continued.

The “regional security architecture” under discussion at the summit would include “confronting threats from Iran and its proxies,” Yosef said, and would feature “a meaningful US presence.”

“It will include cooperation in all the areas you can think of,” Yosef said, including in diplomacy, technology, and at international organizations.

The Palestinian issue did come up in the internal talks, but it was not at the center of the conversation, Yosef said.

After meeting for the Negev Summit, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken place stones as a sign of respect on the grave of David Ben Gurion, while visiting David Ben Gurion National Park, March 28, 2022, in Sde Boker, southern Israel. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, Pool)

Most of the visiting dignitaries — those from the US, Bahrain, Morocco, and Egypt — mentioned their support for a future Palestinian state. Ramallah has fiercely criticized the summit.

Senior Palestinian official Bassam al-Salihi told The Times of Israel that the Arab diplomats’ visit to the Negev will not help the Palestinians, “whatever their reasoning” for participating.

“The Palestinian issue won’t be present in this summit. If it is present, it will be on Israel’s terms,” said al-Salihi, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Executive Committee.

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