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'We are ready to engage whenever the Palestinians are open'

UAE insists it welcomes regional initiatives that include Palestinians

After ToI reported Abu Dhabi is unenthusiastic about bringing PA into Abraham Accords, Emirati diplomat say his country is happy to work with US, Ramallah

After meeting for the Negev Summit, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, speaks with United Arab Emirates' Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, on Monday, March 28, 2022, in Sde Boker, Israel. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, Pool)
After meeting for the Negev Summit, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, speaks with United Arab Emirates' Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, on Monday, March 28, 2022, in Sde Boker, Israel. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, Pool)

The United Arab Emirates is eager to take part in regional initiatives that incorporate the Palestinians, a senior Emirati diplomat told The Times of Israel on Thursday.

“We welcome any American-led initiative to incorporate the Palestinians,” said the diplomat. “We were very actively involved” in “the conversation in the Negev Summit about the Palestinians.”

The diplomat’s comments came after another Middle Eastern official told The Times of Israel on Wednesday that the UAE was the least enthusiastic participant in March’s Negev Summit around US efforts to include the Palestinians in regional cooperation schemes.

UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan was the only participant who didn’t mention the Palestinians during a joint press statements at the conclusion of the landmark summit.

The Emiratis insist that the omission is not indicative of any hesitancy about bringing the Palestinians into regional projects.

“We are ready to engage whenever the Palestinians are open to a broader cooperation initiative,” the UAE diplomat said. “We  welcome it.”

United Arab Emirates’ Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, right, makes remarks at the Negev Summit, with from left, Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid al-Zayani, Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, Israel’s Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and Morocco’s Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita, March 28, 2022, in Sde Boker, Israel. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, Pool)

“Any regional initiatives that collectively involves the Americans, the Egyptians, the Jordanians, the Palestinians, we’ll certainly support and will actively contribute to it,” the diplomat said.

The six-way Negev Summit in Sde Boker — organized by Foreign Minister Yair Lapid — included US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Morocco’s Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita, United Arab Emirates’ Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Abdullatif al-Zayani, and Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry.

The unprecedented gathering was partially an attempt by Israel and its Arab allies to project a unified front against shared regional foe Iran, and to impress upon Blinken their concern about the direction of US policy on Iran. Israeli officials told reporters at the scene that the talks centered around creating a “regional security architecture,” among other issues.

During their closing statements, the top diplomats from the US, Bahrain, Morocco, and especially Egypt reiterated their support for a Palestinian state.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, center, sits with then-prime minister Ahmed Qureia, left, and then-deputy prime minister Nabil Shaath, during a news conference in Gaza City, on April 25, 2005. (Adel Hana/AP)

Ramallah, for its part, 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.

Jordan, which did not send its foreign minister to the summit, has linked the warmth of its relationship with Israel to Jerusalem’s policies toward the Palestinians. During the summit itself, PA President Mahmoud Abbas hosted Jordan’s King Abdullah in Ramallah.

The Biden administration saw the Negev Summit as an opportunity to rope the Palestinians into initiatives being planned in the context of the Abraham Accords, Middle Eastern diplomats told The Times of Israel.

That has been White House policy since President joe Biden took office in January 2021.

Joe Biden, then-US vice president, shakes hands with Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces at the Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, on Monday, March 7, 2016. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

The Negev Summit participants also agreed to establish six working groups to bolster regional cooperation on national security, education, health, energy, food security, and tourism.

Blinken proposed a seventh working group to focus on the Palestinian issue, but the idea was rejected by Lapid, who instead suggested that the Palestinians be incorporated into all six working groups, two Middle East diplomats confirmed to The Times of Israel.

Lapid also feared a committee specifically dedicated to the Palestinian issue would draw pushback from some of the more right-wing members of the fragile Israeli coalition, one of the diplomats said.

Abbas told Blinken when they met in Ramallah, hours before the secretary of state headed to Sde Boker, that he welcomed opportunities to incorporate the Palestinians into the broader regional alliances, a Palestinian official said, while clarifying that such a move could not come via the platform of the Abraham Accords.

Aaron Boxerman contributed to this report. 

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