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U.S. to host Negev Forum partners for defense meeting this year

Regional normalization and integration were on the agenda at Abu Dhabi meeting, which sought to promote ‘tangible outcomes’

UAE Foreign Ministry

Negev Forum convening in Abu Dhabi

The first international gathering of several task forces meant to advance regional integration in the Middle East in the wake of the Abraham Accords wrapped up on Tuesday in Abu Dhabi, after bringing together more than 150 government officials from the United States, Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Egypt. 

“We’ve accomplished our bottom-line objective, which was to have some tangible outcomes and more than just statements,” State Department counselor Derek Chollet told reporters on Tuesday.

The meeting came 10 months after Secretary of State Tony Blinken met with the foreign ministers from those nations at last March’s Negev Summit, where he announced the creation of six working groups in the so-called “Negev Forum” that would work toward regional normalization. 

The Negev Forum nations will meet in Washington this year for a defense meeting focused on capacity-building and sharing best practices on issues including border security, disaster preparedness and climate change, Chollet announced on Tuesday. “The United States will be looking forward to hosting Negev Forum members in the U.S. in the coming months to see some of the capabilities we have when it comes to information-sharing, when it comes to addressing security risks and threats,” said Chollet, who chaired the working group that is focused on security. 

Israel was moved to the Army’s Central Command area of responsibility in 2021, which streamlined military cooperation between U.S. allies in the Middle East. 

Another high-level Negev Summit is expected to take place in Morocco this year with each country’s foreign minister, and the working groups plan to meet at least three times a year, either virtually or in person. 

Elizabeth Allen, a senior official for the Bureau of Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs and the chair of the education and coexistence working group, said her group talked about building upon educational exchanges and study-abroad programs. “Those of us in the education and coexistence working group from all six countries in the room really felt the sense of the moment, that education is the foundation upon which growth in every other area is built,” Allen told reporters. 

The other working groups focus on clean energy, food and water security, health and tourism.

Since last March’s summit, Washington has expressed a desire for other nations to join the Negev Forum and normalize ties with Israel, but additional nations have not yet heeded the call. Jordan, who made peace with Israel in 1994, has sat out the Negev Forum, insisting that it would not join unless the Palestinians do. 

“We the United States are fully supportive of the Palestinians joining, the Jordanians joining, of course, and others,” Chollet said. “We believe,” he added, that “by coming up with tangible outcomes, by having such productive meetings, such positive meetings as we’ve had in the last few days, that countries that are not yet part of the Negev Forum that we believe would benefit from that will be incentivized to join.”

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