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US State Department holds briefing on Negev Forum

US State Department holds briefing on Negev Forum, Palestinians not at the table
3 min read
Washington, DC
11 January, 2023
The US State Department held a telephonic briefing on the Negev Forum held this week with Israel and its Western-backed allies. Though they said Palestinians would be welcome in the future, they did not offer details about how that would work.
The State Department held a telephonic briefing on this week's Negev Forum. [Getty]

Following the Negev Forum's steering committee's two-day gathering in Abu Dhabi, the US State Department held a telephonic briefing for reporters to discuss the future of the forum, including regional cooperation, security and future members. This could include Palestinians, though it's unclear how this would work, given the gathering's focus on its 

The purpose of the Negev Forum, which was launched as a summit in March, is to expand regional economic and security integration for Israel and its Arab allies.

In introducing the meeting, Derek Chollet, Counselor of the US Department of State, noted that it was the largest meeting between Israel and its regional partners since the 1991 Madrid Summit.

The six working groups that met over two days this week covered regional security, clean energy, food and water security, health, tourism, and education and coexistence. Though Iran was not mentioned in the telephonic briefing, this regional cooperation gathering is understood to be a united security front against Iran.

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Chollet said that the working group sessions focused on regional integration, cooperation and development that "can benefit all people of the region, and that would include – including representatives who are not necessarily at the table.  So that – we're focused on strengthening the Palestinian economy and improving the quality of life of Palestinians, among others." 

It is unclear how Palestinians and others not at the table would benefit from a gathering of Israel and its regional allies from Bahrain, Egypt, Morocco, and the United Arab Emirates, particularly given that the forum has been described as building upon the Abraham Accords. This was the (at the time) controversial normalisation agreement between Israel and Western-back Arab countries in which Palestinians also did not have a seat at the table.

"And our progress with this Negev Forum initiative will build upon the already notable benefits within the region that have developed since the signing of the Abraham Accords and related agreements over two years ago," Chollet told reporters. "And this meeting and the entire Negev process is a direct outgrowth of that great success in the Abraham Accords two-some years ago."   

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He went on to say that he hoped other countries would join the summit, though since it's for Israel and its regional allies, there would undoubtedly be limits and qualifications for joining.

Several reporters asked about the absence of concerned parties.

Mike Wagenheim from i24 News asked, "The Jordanians aren't present at the Negev Forum.  Obviously, they want to take into account the rights of the Palestinians.  Trying to find out how you are incorporating Jordanian and Palestinian priorities within the context of these conversations and how they can be incorporated into upcoming projects..."

Chollet said they were welcome to join, though didn't provide details on how this would work in the context of regional tensions.

He said, "It's of course up to individual countries to decide whether or not they want to attend, and we the United States are fully supportive of the Palestinians joining, of the Jordanians joining, of course, and others. " 

Chollet concluded by describing the Abraham Accords and other areas of normalisation between Israel and its Western-backed allies as an "ongoing conversation" that could have a positive impact on the daily lives of Palestinians.

"It supports our goal of Palestinians and Israelis enjoying equal measures of freedom and security and prosperity while creating the conditions for a negotiated two-state solution," he said.