With Negev Summit planning on hold, Hanegbi said to be headed to UAE

Second confab, meant to be in Morocco in March, now up in the air amid violence between Israel and Palestinians

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Then-Settlement Affairs Minister Tzachi Hanegbi in Gush Etzion in the West Bank, December 24, 2020. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)
Then-Settlement Affairs Minister Tzachi Hanegbi in Gush Etzion in the West Bank, December 24, 2020. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

With preparations for the second Negev Summit at a standstill amid violence in the West Bank and Gaza, National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi is planning a trip to Abu Dhabi in the coming weeks to address concerns among Emirati officials.

A Western diplomatic official told The Times of Israel that the visit is expected to take place in early March. However, the Prime Minister’s Office said that there was no date set.

The 2023 Negev Summit — bringing together Israel, its Abraham Accords partners, Egypt and the US — had been slated to take place in Morocco in March.

But the confab will not take place in Morocco in March, officials told The Times of Israel.

Morocco’s Foreign Ministry told The Times of Israel that it had no updates on planning for the summit.

The inaugural Negev Summit in Sde Boker took place in March 2022, initiated and hosted by then-foreign minister Yair Lapid.

Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Abdullatif al-Zayani waves as he poses for a photo with attendees, following the Negev Summit in Kibbutz Sde Boker, southern Israel, March 28, 2022. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

Only weeks ago, it seemed that the March summit was on track. The Negev Forum steering committee met in person for the first time in January, bringing together dozens of officials in Abu Dhabi to plan the second meeting of the six foreign ministers.

A Western diplomatic official said that the proximity of Ramadan, which will begin around March 22, is making Arab members of the Negev Forum nervous about holding the meeting then. Tensions have spiked in Jerusalem and across Israel during Ramadan in recent years, including an outbreak of violence in 2021 that resulted in a 11-day conflict between Israel and Gaza-based terror groups.

That was before the Israeli arrest operation in Nablus Wednesday, in which 11 Palestinians were killed and 102 were injured, followed by Palestinians in the Gaza Strip firing six rockets into southern Israel.

Israeli planes bombed two Hamas sites in Gaza early Thursday morning in response to the rocket attacks.

A Palestinian gestures to Israeli military vehicles during clashes in the West Bank city of Nablus, February 22, 2023. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

Egypt and Jordan, both of which have longstanding treaties with Israel, condemned the Nablus operation on Wednesday, as did Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which do not recognize Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that he believes he can bring Riyadh into the Abraham Accords by the end of the year.

Bahrain, one of the signers of the 2020 agreement, released a statement on Thursday saying it “strongly condemns Israeli forces storming of the Palestinian city of Nablus.” However, Israeli officials told The Times of Israel that they did not see the language as particularly problematic, and noted that Manama waited till the day after other Arab countries issued their condemnations.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a discussion and a vote in the Knesset on February 20, 2023 (Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Jordan is the only Arab country with full diplomatic relations with Israel that has not participated in the Negev Forum, though it was invited. Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi was not at the table for the inaugural gathering of the forum, and Amman did not send a representative to the June 2022 or January steering committee meeting.

Netanyahu was eager to demonstrate his determination and ability to advance the Abraham Accords — which the Naftali Bennett-Lapid government was unable to do — by visiting the UAE early in his term. A Middle Eastern diplomat told The Times of Israel recently that those plans are on hold until Abu Dhabi sees what unfolds during Ramadan.

Another official indicated that the Emiratis are increasingly interested in investing in Israel, and are not particularly worried about Israeli policies. However, they do care about stability as a prerequisite to significant investment.

There are also some positive signs in the region. On Thursday, Oman announced it would allow Israeli civilian flights to transit through its airspace. Saudi Arabia opened its airspace in 2022.

Jacob Magid contributed to this report.

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