ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 150

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US says Israel, Arab countries to reconvene in early 2023 for Negev Forum

White House official doesn’t specify if gathering will be for working groups or for ministers, says steps taken by incoming right-wing government will impact initiative’s success

Closing their talks at the Negev Summit, (from left) Bahrain's Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid al-Zayani, 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, March 28, 2022, in Sde Boker, Israel. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, Pool)
Closing their talks at the Negev Summit, (from left) Bahrain's Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid al-Zayani, 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, March 28, 2022, in Sde Boker, Israel. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, Pool)

WASHINGTON — The United States is planning a meeting in early 2023 between Israel and Arab nations that recognize it as it pushes the incoming right-wing government of Benjamin Netanyahu to show restraint, a US official said Tuesday.

Netanyahu is set to take office with the most right-wing government in Israel’s history, largely made up of members who staunchly oppose the establishment of a Palestinian state.

A senior US official said Washington plans a meeting “probably in the first quarter” of 2023, to be attended by foreign ministers from the so-called Negev Forum, which met for the first time last March.

The meeting — with Israel’s now-outgoing, more moderate government — brought to the Israeli desert the foreign minister of Egypt, the first Arab state to make peace with Israel, and his counterparts from the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco, which normalized relations in 2020 as part of the Abraham accords.

The accords are “near and dear to the heart of Prime Minister Netanyahu and so I imagine that he wants to continue to see that move forward,” the US official said on condition of anonymity.

“I think Israel has to factor that in,” the official said. “Depending on some of the things that Israel does, that may make it harder or easier for these countries to actually engage and participate and move forward, never mind bringing new countries into the process.”

Likud leader MK Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with his expected defense minister Yoav Gallant in the Knesset on December 20, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said earlier this month that the Negev Forum working groups — six panels tasked with advancing regional projects in the areas of regional security, food and water security, energy, health, education, and tourism — would convene early next year.

It was not immediately clear whether this was the gathering referred to by the US official or whether they were referencing a ministerial-level summit that Morocco is slated to host, according to Middle Eastern diplomats who spoke to The Times of Israel in October.

The United Arab Emirates jumpstarted the Abraham accords in return for a promise by Netanyahu’s then government not to move ahead with the annexation of parts of the West Bank, a step that had received the blessing of former US president Donald Trump’s administration.

US President Joe Biden’s administration has warned that it opposes annexation and the expansion of settlements and has backed the creation of a Palestinian state, while stopping short of any major diplomatic drive toward a goal seen as having little chance of success.

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