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Morocco cancels plans to host Negev Forum

Rabat reportedly made the decision in response to Israeli announcements on expanding communities in Judea and Samaria.

The steering committee of the Negev Forum meets in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Jan. 9, 2023. Credit: UAE Foreign Ministry.
The steering committee of the Negev Forum meets in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Jan. 9, 2023. Credit: UAE Foreign Ministry.

The Moroccan government has canceled plans to host the Negev Forum next month over recent Israeli announcements regarding the expansion of Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria.

U.S. and Israeli officials confirmed Rabat’s decision to the Times of Israel on Tuesday.

It would have been the second gathering of foreign ministers from Israel, Morocco, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt and the United States in the spirit of building upon the Abraham Accords normalization agreements. The inaugural event was held in southern Israel in March 2022, and since then three steering committee meetings have taken place—in June 2022 in Bahrain, a virtual meeting in October 2022 and in Abu Dhabi in January 2023.

“It is another sign in the deterioration of the Abraham Accords,” Professor Eytan Gilboa, an expert on U.S.-Israel relations at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan and a senior fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security, told JNS.

The Morocco event was originally planned for March, but the North African country’s government postponed it four times before canceling it completely. The U.S. official said that a date had not been finalized but had been “pretty locked up” for mid-July.

According to the official, two announcements regarding Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria had derailed the summit.

On Sunday, Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich announced the approval of more than 4,500 new housing units for residents of Judea and Samaria. Hours later, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Cabinet passed a resolution handing Smotrich near-full control over planning approval for existing Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria.

Smotrich, the leader of the Religious Zionism Party, is also a minister in the Defense Ministry.

The resolution also reduces red tape for expanding existing Israeli communities and retroactively legalizes some outposts in Judea and Samaria.

Gilboa said that Israel has always maintained good diplomatic relations with Morocco but that the African country had no choice but to nix the summit because Israel went against commitments it made at the Aqaba and Sharm el-Sheikh summits. According to a joint statement from the March 19 meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh released by the United States, that included an “Israeli commitment to stop discussion of any new settlement units for four months, and to stop authorization of any outposts for six months.”

Gilboa said that it was a difficult decision for Morocco to make as the host country.

“Morocco didn’t really have a choice but to cancel this meeting because the meeting signifies the importance of the Abraham Accords and I believe that there is some crisis between Israel and members of those Abraham Accords,” Gilboa said, calling the developments “disappointing.”

Expanding Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria “taints the atmosphere” around the Biden administration’s efforts to forge a diplomatic agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia, the U.S. official added.

“I would be singularly focused on doing absolutely nothing that would prevent the Saudi deal from getting done, but they haven’t been able to do that,” the official said.

Gilboa said that Netanyahu was beholden to his Likud Party’s coalition agreements with other parties in his government.

“The more extreme members of his coalition are applying pressure on him that is stronger than his foreign policy considerations like the Abraham Accords and relations with the United States,” the professor said.

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