The future of a peaceful—even united—Middle East was foretold emphatically at last week’s Negev Summit. The epochal event, attended by foreign ministers from Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Morocco, Egypt and the United States, was hosted by Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid in southern Israel.
The summit represented another catalytic step in solidifying the growing alliance between the Jewish state and its Sunni Arab neighbors—and was a declaration to the United States that as it withdraws from the Middle East, determined forces are ready to fill the vacuum.
Remarkable in its absence from the confab was any Palestinian effort to derail this new future—except through their latest round of terror attacks elsewhere in Israel, plus some tone-deaf remarks by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
In fact, in his closing statement Blinken tried to shanghai the meeting’s program, offering a litany of alleged Palestinian suffering at Israel’s hands. He conveniently ignored the Palestinians’ responsibility for their plight—the result of violently rejecting Israel’s many offers of statehood, and refusing even to negotiate for the past decade. His remarks were appreciated by no one present, who had only solvable problems on their minds.
Indeed, the focus of the summit was on creating a united front against the burgeoning threat of a well-funded, terror-obsessed and soon-to-go-nuclear Iran. In the face of that threat, foreign ministers from the four Arab states huddled for two days with Israel’s Lapid to plan future collaborations on security, economic issues and cultural exchanges.
Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas met with Jordan’s King Abdullah in Ramallah, neither having heretofore demonstrated any aptitude for reining in Ramadan-related terrorism by Palestinians—the majority of whom want Abbas to step down.
Later, the twin Palestinian dictatorships in Ramallah and Gaza condemned the Negev Summit effort as being “a stab in the back.”
One PLO official said the summit “reflects the loss of the Arab identity for all those who agreed to be part of the project of normalization with the enemy…. Are the Arab foreign ministers so ignorant of the reality and nature of the conflict in the occupied Negev, which is threatened with Judaization?”
(The Negev, of course, has been “occupied” since Israel’s founding in 1948—“Judaized” by such “settlers” as Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, who himself lived in Sde Boker, site of the summit!)
It is clear to the P.A. that the summit’s constructive optimism has supplanted their own destructive nihilism. While the Palestinian people could benefit from economic and political opportunities created by the Abraham Accords, Palestinian leaders firmly oppose the alliance. They adhere strictly to their longstanding rejectionist strategy—achieving nothing but the death of innocents and the growing frustration of their people.
Indeed, the Negev Summit kicked off in the wake of the terror assault in the central Israeli city of Hadera, which claimed the lives of two Israeli police officers. That attack followed a terrorist assault in Beersheva, where Palestinians butchered four Israelis, and was followed days later by five murders in Bnei Brak, outside Tel Aviv.
The summit opened with unanimous condemnations of the Hadera attack. This signaled the desire of the Arab leaders to distance themselves from Palestinian terror. Some of the Arab luminaries offered support for resolving the Israel-Palestinian conflict, but that tepid support came as a hollow afterthought to the brutal terror attacks.
The summit’s setting in Sde Boker was more than a bit symbolic. Kibbutz Sde Boker was home to Ben-Gurion, who led in Israel’s creation. Ben-Gurion would have been delighted—even shocked—to see his dream of rapprochement with Arab countries move toward full flower in his hometown.
Indeed, the summit was a brilliant diplomatic move—both to demonstrate growing Arab-Israeli solidarity against Iran and to encourage the Biden administration to support the alliance. Secretary Blinken no doubt got an earful of participants’ alarm about the growing Middle East power vacuum resulting from American policies.
In Sde Boker, the foreign ministers worked on down-to-earth, urgent matters. They focused on the threat posed to all by Iran, and formulated strategy for development of a hotline-warning system to share instant alerts about drone, missile and other attacks by the Islamic Republic and its proxies.
The parties formalized plans for other intelligence exchanges, and drew up an architecture for an Arab-Israeli mutual security structure, including maritime security. They also agreed on plans for increasingly intimate economic, trade, cultural and tourism cooperation. Such plans, under the Trump-initiated Abraham Accords, have already borne copious fruit, with direct flights, business deals and tourism.
In addition to the Arab participants’ growing partnerships with Israel, Saudi Arabia is moving subtly to forge ties with the Jewish state. Security and intelligence cooperation efforts between Riyadh and Jerusalem are an open secret in Middle East diplomacy.
With Saudi discomfort about the awful Iran-nuclear deal taking shape in Vienna, and the Iran-proxy Houthis in Yemen lobbing missiles at Riyadh and Saudi oilfields, Saudi Arabia clearly seeks closer ties with a fellow regional power: Israel.
No doubt to the Palestinians’ chagrin, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has commented that formalized, open relations with Israel are a matter of when, not if.
The Saudi crown prince recently said, “We don’t look at Israel as an enemy, we look to them as a potential ally, with many interests that we can pursue together … But we have to solve some issues before we get to that.” The oblique reference to the Palestinian/Israel situation was notable to Saudi experts for not being more explicit.
Last month, the crown prince—increasingly uncomfortable with U.S. leadership and America’s perceived disengagement from the Middle East—declined even to take calls from President Biden, who wants Saudi Arabia to pump more oil to alleviate the supply disruption caused by sanctions amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
In a troubled world, the relationships between Arab states and Israel are still in their infancy, but efforts like the Negev Summit can help them reach maturity.
In short, the Abraham Accords are key to peace and stability in the Middle East. If the Palestinians want to take part, they must choose new leaders, lay down their weapons and end their genocidal hatred of Israel. The Palestinians’ supporters in the Arab world are developing ever-closer rapport with Israel, and no longer will blindly indulge the dead-end of Palestinian rejectionism.
Ken Cohen is co-editor of the Hotline published by Facts and Logic About the Middle East (FLAME), which offers educational messages to correct lies and misperceptions about Israel and its relationship to the United States.