Blinken stumps for normalization with Israel in visit to Algeria, which opposes it

Touting Abraham Accords, US secretary of state says ties will have practical benefits, expects other countries to notice advantages and seek to join in

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken listens to a question during a news conference, at the US Embassy in Algiers, Algeria, March 30, 2022,. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken listens to a question during a news conference, at the US Embassy in Algiers, Algeria, March 30, 2022,. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, concluding a trip to Algeria Wednesday evening, lauded the benefits of the Abraham Accords, which set into motion the normalization of ties between Israel and four Arab nations.

During a press conference at the end of his visit to the North African nation, Blinken was asked about the Negev Summit earlier this week and used the opportunity to highlight the benefits of joining the US-sponsored accords, which began in 2020 by establishing ties between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, closely followed by Bahrain. Morocco signed a similar agreement with Israel in December of that year, prompting Algeria to sever ties with its neighbor amid other grievances between the two countries over the disputed territory of Western Sahara.

Blinken acknowledged that normalizing relations with Israel is a decision that each country has to make on its own, adding, though, that the Negev Summit provided the latest example of what they have to gain. The foreign ministers of four Arab nations attended the confab in southern Israel, along with Blinken.

“This is going to have real, practical benefits for the people in the countries participating in that effort who have normalized their relations with Israel,” Blinken said of the Abraham Accords. “We’re seeing that take life in terms of connections that have grown very rapidly between people, between businesses, between students, tourists… even [during] COVID.”

“My bet is that as other countries that are not part of that process see this take shape, they will conclude that this is something they want to be a part of… but, of course, it’s on us to demonstrate that it really works and that it produces results. I believe that it will,” he added.

The top US diplomat had flown in on Wednesday morning from Algeria’s arch-rival Morocco.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Morocco’s Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita, speak during a news conference at the Foreign Ministry in Rabat, Morocco, March 29, 2022. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

Relations between Washington and Algiers soured as a result of Morocco’s normalization deal, brokered under then-president Donald Trump.

As a quid pro quo for normalization, the Trump administration recognized Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara, a phosphate-rich desert territory where Algeria has long backed the Polisario independence movement.

In Rabat on Tuesday, Blinken voiced support for a Moroccan autonomy plan for the Western Sahara, which he described as “serious, credible and realistic.”

In Algiers on Wednesday, he refrained from mentioning the Moroccan plan, and instead voiced Washington’s support for United Nations mediation.

“We’re very focused on diplomacy and on advancing a resolution through diplomacy,” he said, insisting that there had been “no changes” in Washington’s position.

Officials in Algeria, a longtime supporter of the Palestinian cause, have voiced concerns over Morocco’s normalization with Israel, particularly over the possibility their rival could access advanced Israeli military technology.

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, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Morocco’s Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita, and United Arab Emirates’ Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, talk while posing for a photograph Monday, March 28, 2022, in Sde Boker, Israel. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, Pool)

Blinken said on Wednesday that he hoped that the “real practical benefits” of normalization would encourage other Arab nations to follow suit.

But he re-emphasized that the normalization process was “not a substitute for dealing with the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians” and reaching a two-state solution.

The Palestinians have described the 2020 deals, which broke with decades of Arab consensus that Israel should not be recognized in the absence of a peace deal creating a Palestinian state, as a stab in the back.

Israel was eager to cast the Negev Summit, attended by the foreign ministers of Egypt, Morocco, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates, as an alliance of powers against its arch-foe Iran.

Times of Israel staff and AFP contributed to this report.

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