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As Israel, US prep for Biden visit, second regional forum reportedly being weighed

US president expected in late June; according to Axios, White House looking to build on ties forged during March’s Negev Summit, though plans are not concrete

The opening roundtable begins at the Negev Summit, as 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. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, Pool)
The opening roundtable begins at the Negev Summit, as 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. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, Pool)

The US and Israel have discussed holding a forum of regional leaders when President Joe Biden visits Jerusalem, according to a report on Tuesday in the Axios news site.

An advance team from the Biden administration arrived in Israel earlier this week in preparation for the president’s visit, expected in late June, an official familiar with the matter told The Times of Israel. They added that the visit will include a stop in the West Bank to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

The idea for a summit of Biden, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and at least one Arab leader was raised during National Security Adviser Eyal Hulata’s meeting with his US counterpart Jake Sullivan last month, Axios said, citing two Israeli officials.

The proposal is still in its early stages, and it is not clear whether such a meeting will take place, and if so, if it will be held in Israel or another regional country. However, the goal appears to be to build off of the Negev Summit held in late March, when the foreign ministers of Israel, the US, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Egypt gathered in Sde Boker for the first ever regional confab of its kind.

Axios reported that Biden’s visit — which will be his first to the Middle East as president — will only last 24 to 36 hours.

The White House declined to comment on the report.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, right, meets with US President Joe Biden in the Oval Office of the White House, on August 27, 2021, in Washington, DC. (GPO)

In late March, Israel hosted an unprecedented summit of regional leaders in Sde Boker, where they announced that the gathering would be the first iteration of a permanent regional forum.

The unprecedented summit was widely seen as an attempt by Israel and its Arab allies to create a front against shared regional foe Iran.

Last month, The Times of Israel revealed that the Biden administration wanted the Palestinian Authority to be included in regional cooperation plans being developed between Israel and several of its Arab neighbors. But such a move has not been welcomed by either the PA or the UAE and Bahrain, which are not enthusiastic about creating linkage between their relations with Israel and the Palestinian issue.

Since the Negev Summit took place in late March, Israel’s Arab allies have harshly criticized the Jewish state over violence that flared up on and around the Temple Mount in the past few weeks.

Last month, the UAE summoned Israel’s envoy for a rebuke over the clashes at the holy site, the first such instance since the two countries normalized relations a year and a half ago.

Jordan, which declined to take part in the March summit, also had harsh words for Israel last month, although Jerusalem and Amman are reportedly planning to convene soon to address Temple Mount tensions.

Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, right, speaks during remarks at the Negev Summit, March 28, 2022, in Sde Boker, with Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid al-Zayani, at left. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, Pool)

Egypt, whose foreign minister appeared reluctant at times to be taking part in the Negev Summit, hosted the leaders of Jordan and the UAE at a summit in Cairo last week to discuss the Temple Mount and the recent clashes.

Speaking at the Negev Summit in March, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken praised the growing economic ties and diplomatic forums taking place as a result of the normalization between Israel and Arab states, and pledged that the US would continue to support and help grow the accords.

However, the US secretary of state was careful to stress that the accords were 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.

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