Blinken joins ‘historic’ Israeli-Arab summit amid tensions over Iran deal

SDE BOKER, Israel – Here in the Negev Desert, the Israeli government says history is being made.

Israeli Foreign Minister Yar’Adua Lapid is hosting for the first time on Israeli soil the foreign ministers of four Arab countries that now have close ties to the Jewish state – a new reality in recent years, especially for the region reconstructed by the Iranian threat.

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken will join them in what is being called the Israel-Negev Summit, but only after an evening of meetings with Palestinian leaders, including President Mahmoud Abbas, and civil society on Sunday. Although these new Arab-Israeli relations have been promoted to bring peace and stability, they have left the Palestinians behind and have done little to address the decades-old tensions there.

The Biden administration is trying to build ties with the Palestinians after years of freezing Trump – especially with the ghost of violence hanging over next month. Passover and Ramadan go hand in hand, creating the stage for potential sparks like last spring’s deadly fight.

Nevertheless, Biden’s party has also embraced Trump’s Abraham Accords, the agreements that established relations between Israel and several Arab neighbors – a rare part of the continuity between the two administrations’ foreign policy.

Monday’s meeting brings together Israel and the United States, along with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco – all members of the new treaty. Egypt, which established ties with Israel in a US-brokered deal more than 40 years ago, will also join, although Jordan, which established ties in the 1994 US agreement, will not join. Sudan was part of the deal after a military coup last fall derailed the transition to a civilian-led democracy.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said, “The Middle East is changing, and it is changing for the better. We are rebuilding old ties and building new bridges. We are reviving old peace and charging it with new strength from the Abraham Accord.” Blinken Sunday in Jerusalem as well.

Blinken sang from the same sheet of music on Sunday, and he and other U.S. officials said they believed deepening ties would help bring peace to the entire region.

“What we are seeing is a normalization of normalization for the region,” he said during a photo op with Israeli President Isaac Herzog – a line he repeatedly set during his visit. “The United States is very proud to be a part of this – to support efforts to deepen our partnership with the countries that have already become normal with Israel and to help us find new partners.”

So far, Biden has had no luck with that effort – especially with the main holdout remaining with Saudi Arabia – and it is unclear what announcement will come from Monday’s meeting.

Nevertheless, Israel is hosting these Arab states with their US backers, a powerful one – “a dramatic sign of US alignment in the dual shadow of the Ukraine crisis with Israel and the moderate Arab states… and perhaps a return. JCPOA Iran’s nuclear deal A veteran U.S. diplomat and now chair of the Middle East program at the Wilson Center, a think tank in Washington.

These two security challenges are where relations between the United States and its Middle East allies and partners under Biden have been strained. In recent weeks, the United States has called on Israel, the United Arab Emirates and others to do more to punish Russia and support Ukraine – although on Sunday in Jerusalem, Israel called for a ban on a field hospital in the West Bank and for humanitarian aid. Has done. Ukraine.

In addition, as the State Department team approaches a renewed nuclear deal with Iran, Israel and its Arab neighbors worry that it will flush Iran out of sanctions relief with cash – aimed at raising arms and funds to its proxies and providing its ballistic missiles. Several of these countries face almost daily threats from Tehran and those proxies – Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon and Israel for Syria, and Houthis in the UAE and Saudi Arabia, who are particularly adamant that the Biden administration is strong enough to support them. Didn’t work. .

This makes Monday’s meetings a subtle dance for Blinken – trying to embrace the peaceful face of Abraham Accord, as his party seeks to complete a renewed nuclear deal with Iran, provoking a growing anti-Iranian alliance. In Jerusalem, Blinken said in a paper on any disagreement, particularly with Israel, that the two countries were “united in addressing the challenges they face, including Iran’s nuclear program.”

But what the growing Arab-Israeli relationship does not resolve is decades-old tensions between Israelis and Palestinians.

The Biden administration was seized in one of its first foreign policy challenges by the worst violence in years between the Israeli military and Hamas, the US-designated terrorist group operating in the Gaza Strip. The fighting lasted for 11 days last May and killed more than 250 people, most of them Palestinians.

But the risk of violence has risen again in the following month, with the holy days of Judaism, Islam and Christianity virtually overlapping in April – Passover, Ramadan and Easter. Violence erupted last spring after Israeli sanctions on Temple Mount during Ramadan and the possible eviction of Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem.

During the meeting between Jerusalem and Ramallah, Blinken reiterated a constant U.S. message – that both sides refrain from actions that could provoke the other.

Beyond that low bar, Biden and Blinken seem to be less interested in deep engagement on the issue. This is Blinken’s second visit to Israel and the West Bank in office for more than a year, as the administration tries to focus on China and swallows up Russia’s war in Ukraine.

“Palestinians and Israelis alike deserve to live with equal measure of freedom, opportunity, security, and dignity, and we believe that the most effective way is, ultimately, through the two states to articulate that fundamental principle,” Blinken said Sunday. President Abbas.

However, he added, “Of course, both sides are far apart, so we will continue our work step by step to try to bring them closer.”

A key question in that work is whether the United States will reopen its Consulate General in East Jerusalem, which has traditionally served as a consular operation for the Palestinians. As part of its tense relations with Palestinian leaders, the Trump administration closed the facility when it moved its embassy to Jerusalem.

Blinken has promised to reopen the consulate, but Israeli officials vehemently oppose doing so, saying there should be a US consulate for Palestinians where they consider Palestinian territory, not Jerusalem – which both sides claim as their capital.

In remarks after their meeting, Abbas again welcomed the United States to reopen the consulate – which received a headwind from Blinken.

But Blinken made no mention of it during his trip to Israel, where Lapid was asked about it during a joint news conference on Sunday.

“It’s not even a place for us to say anything,” Lapid said. “We do not consider Jerusalem the right place because Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and the capital of Israel.”

With that, Blinken and Lapid left the room with a “thank you” to the press.

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