US informs Israel of Negev Forum postponement amid anger over new settlement plans
The US has informed Israel that the Negev Forum on regional cooperation which was expected to be held next month will be postponed due to the Israeli government’s insistence on pushing ahead with its settlement plans, the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth reported.
The approval of 4,560 settlement units in various areas of the West Bank were included on the agenda of Israel's Supreme Planning Council due to meet next week, although only 1,332 units were up for final approval, with the remainder still going through the preliminary clearance process.
The US and other Western powers have repeatedly expressed concerns that such plans will hinder any peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
Israeli settlements are illegal under international law and a major obstacle to the creation of a viable Palestinian state. Israel's current far-right government, which includes settler leaders, has vowed to continue their expansion.
Prior to the US announcement, host country Morocco said on Thursday that the Negev Forum was being postponed.
"Smotrich’s grip over Israel’s decision-making is reflective of ultra-nationalist influence in Israeli elections & the Religious Zionist's dominance in... coalition discussions"@ashrafzeneca on how Smotrich's West Bank plan actualises a second Nakba: https://t.co/Pyk7qlPS95— The New Arab (@The_NewArab) March 26, 2023
The summit, which involves the foreign ministers of Israel, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco, and US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, had previously been postponed three times before it was scheduled for 25 June.
Established in March 2022 in Israel’s Negev (or Naqab) desert, the forum was meant to be an annual platform for Israeli-Arab normalisation and strengthening cooperation in various fields, including security and defence.
While Egypt has shared ties with Israel since 1979, the UAE, Bahrain and Morocco normalised ties with Israel in 2020, as part of controversial US-mediated deals dubbed the Abraham Accords.
Palestinians slammed the deals as a betrayal of their cause, pointing out that they rewarded Israel while it continued to occupy the West Bank and besiege the Gaza Strip.