Netanyahu to Join Arab Leaders at U.S.-hosted Mideast Conference in Poland

Some 60 countries have confirmed their attendance, but both Iran and the Palestinian Authority won't take part

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United States Vice President Mike Pence at Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, January 23, 2018.
United States Vice President Mike Pence at Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, January 23, 2018.Credit: Matti Stern, U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will fly to Warsaw on Tuesday to attend a conference on the Middle East co-hosted by Poland and the U.S. State Department.

The conference was originally supposed to focus on Iran, but the title was later changed to “Promoting a Future of Peace and Security in the Middle East.”

According to the Polish Foreign Ministry, some 60 countries have confirmed their attendance, including several from the Middle East. Aside from Israel, the Mideast participants include Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Yemen, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Tunisia.

>> Read more: Netanyahu's vision for the Middle East has come true ■ Poland woos Trump with anti-Iran conference, but risks alienating other allies

Over the past year, relations between Israel and several of those countries have warmed noticeably, and Netanyahu would like to further improve relations with three of them in particular – Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Morocco.

Senior White House Adviser Jared Kushner shakes hands with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, June 22, 2018.Credit: מתי שטרן / שגרירות

Iran will not attend the conference, and neither will the Palestinians.

During the conference, Netanyahu is expected to meet with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. U.S. President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, and his special envoy for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Jason Greenblatt, will also attend, and they are expected to confer with Netanyahu and Arab leaders about the economic aspects of their peace plan. They also plan to discuss this issue at some point with Qatar, which apparently isn’t attending.

Last month, the U.S. administration announced that it would not present its peace plan until after Israel’s election on April 9. U.S. officials therefore stressed for now, they are only discussing the economic aspects.

Kushner and Greenblatt visited several Arab states last summer to discuss the plan’s economic aspects and try to persuade the Gulf States to invested in projects in the Gaza Strip. The answer they got then was that such investments would be possible only after they knew the full details of the administration’s peace plan.

The Palestinian Authority, which Poland invited to the conference, had said earlier that it would boycott it. Senior PA official Saeb Erekat charged that the gathering was intended to circumvent the Saudi-authored Arab Peace Initiative. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas flew to Riyadh on Monday to try to persuade the Saudis to oppose the U.S. peace plan.

Aside from the time spent on the Palestinian issue, the conference will focus mainly on Iran, and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif denounced it as an anti-Iranian “circus.”

Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz said his country supports the European Union’s view that the nuclear deal with Iran should be preserved, but noted that this agreement hasn’t stopped Iran from taking steps that undermine regional stability. Therefore, he said, the issue of Iran’s ballistic missiles will be a major focus of discussion at the conference, and he hopes the gathering will bring the EU and American positions closer.

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