Morocco confirms US-Israel-Arab ministerial forum delayed, cites ‘political context’

Foreign minister says timing not right to move forward with second Negev Forum meeting of top diplomats, after officials told ToI postponement prompted by settlement boosts

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

Negev Forum participants hold a meeting in Abu Dhabi on January 10, 2022. (UAE Foreign Affairs Ministry)
Negev Forum participants hold a meeting in Abu Dhabi on January 10, 2022. (UAE Foreign Affairs Ministry)

A highly anticipated summit of top diplomats from Israel, the US and several Arab countries has been postponed until at least after the summer, host Morocco confirmed Friday, citing the need for an “appropriate political context” amid escalating West Bank settlement activity and anti-Palestinian violence.

Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita stressed that Rabat still has every intention to host the second ministerial gathering of the Negev Forum to foster “dialogue and ease tensions,” days after Israeli and US officials told The Times of Israel that the meeting had been torpedoed by moves to ramp up West Bank settlement building.

“There are problems in terms of the agenda and the political context that did not allow this meeting to be held in the summer,” Bourita said during a press appearance in Rabat Friday.

The gathering of foreign ministers from Israel, the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco, Egypt and the US was originally slated to take place in March but has been delayed several times amid escalating tensions between Israelis and Palestinians as well as discomfort among Arab participants over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new hardline government.

Bourita did not elaborate on the delay but expressed Morocco’s opposition to all unilateral actions in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, “especially the ones [done by] Israel.”

He also condemned the deadly counter-terror raid that the IDF carried out in Jenin on Monday, which led to the deaths of seven Palestinians, including civilians.

The foreign minister made no mention of the Palestinian terror attack on Tuesday outside the Eli settlement, which left four Israelis dead and also sparked widespread violence by settler vigilantes.

Instead, he expressed the kingdom’s “full solidarity with the Palestinian people,” and its support for a two-state solution based on the pre-1967 lines.

On Tuesday, a US official said a mid-July date for the long-awaited forum had been “pretty locked up” before Rabat reversed course in response to a pair of Israeli moves to significantly expand its settlements in the West Bank.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with Morocco’s Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita at the State Department in Washington, Monday, March 20, 2023. (Evelyn Hockstein/Pool via AP)

On Sunday, the Netanyahu government passed a resolution that gave far-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich practically all control over planning approval for West Bank construction and dramatically expedited the process for expanding existing settlements.

The move came hours after Smotrich announced that the Defense Ministry body in charge of authorizing settlement construction would be meeting next week to advance plans for over 4,500 new settlement homes.

US officials have warned that government moves to bolster settlement building or allow settler violence to fester could harm Israel’s ability to normalize with regional neighbors or form an alliance to oppose Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

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