Summit to Become Regular Forum, Unity Will 'Deter Iran,' Israel's Lapid Says

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From left: Bahrain's Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani, Egypt's Sameh Shoukry, Israel's Yair Lapid, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Morocco's Nasser Bourita and the UAE's Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan
From left: Bahrain's Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani, Egypt's Sameh Shoukry, Israel's Yair Lapid, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Morocco's Nasser Bourita and the UAE's Abdullah bin Zayed Al NCredit: Asi Efrati
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Summit to become regular forum, Lapid says

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said in a press conference Monday that the Mideast summit taking place in the Negev will be a "regular forum," noting that the coalition of Middle Eastern countries will "deter" Iran and its proxies.

"This meeting is the first of its kind and not the last. We decided to make this meeting into a dedicated forum," said Lapid, standing alongside the foreign ministers of Morocco, Egypt, Bahrain, the U.S. and the United Arab Emirates.

"What we are doing here is making history, building a new regional architecture based on progress, technology, religious tolerance, security and intelligence cooperation," Lapid said.

"This new architecture—the shared capabilities we are building— intimidates and deters our common enemies, first and foremost Iran and its proxies."

Lapid began the press conference by saying Israel will not be intimidated by the terrorist attack Sunday in the city of Hadera, in which two people were killed.

"We will continue on our path, the path of peace," he said. "I am not
alone in this, everyone here shares this sentiment," he added, saying that all foreign ministers participating in the summit condemned the attack.

U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said that "just a few years ago this gathering would have been impossible to imagine," adding that since the signing of the Abraham Accords, "once impossible things became possible." Blinken said, however, that the Abraham Accords are not a substitute to the Palestinian issue, adding that this issue has been raised during the summit.

Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani began by condemning the terror attack and stressing his country's commitment to peace and coexistence. "This is an important and timely meeting, he said of the summit." He cited the Houthi attacks, Hezbollah, and the Iranian nuclear question as regional issues that make such gatherings important.

Egypt's foreign minister, Sameh Shoukry, who spoke next, said the summit also provided an opportunity to discuss issues such as the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and the two-state solution, as well as Jerusalem.

Morocco's Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita said "our presence today is the best response" to terror attacks such as the one that took place Sunday. Morocco's presence in the summit is a natural
decision based on long-standing relations, he said.

The UAE's foreign minister Abdullah bin Zayed thanked Lapid for the hospitality, calling the summit a historic moment. He lamented the 43 years – since Egypt and Israel signed a peace accord – that have passed and could have been used to "know each other and change the narrative." It's time, he said, to change both the narrative and the dynamic.

Palestinian prime minister calls Mideast summit 'one big illusion'

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said on Monday that the Mideast summit in Israel's south is "one big illusion" since it excludes the Palestinians. Speaking at a government meeting in Ramallah, Shtayyeh added that the summit constitutes a warrantless "prize" for Israel.

Meanwhile, Jordan's King Abdullah is set to arrive in Ramallah by chopper in the coming hour.

Jonathan Lis

In Israel's Mideast summit, defensive cooperation against Iran arises | Analysis

The first day of the Israeli-Arab summit in the Negev was devoted largely to having the attending foreign ministers to get to know each other better.

Nevertheless, ideas for defense cooperation against Iran – or to use the official jargon, “a regional security architecture” – came up even in the initial meetings. The goal is to build deterrence against both aerial and naval threats. And sources familiar with the discussions predicted that the summit will end with agreements.

>> Click here to read the full analysis

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett Tests Positive for COVID

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett's office announced on Monday that he has tested positive for COVID.

According to the statement, he feels well and will continue working remotely from his home.

On Sunday, Bennett participated in a news conference with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

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Israel will 'stand with allies' against terrorism, Lapid says after attack in central Israel

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said on Twitter that he had updated the "Negev Summit" participants on the attack, adding that "all foreign ministers condemned the attack and sent their condolences to the families" of those killed.

According to Lapid, this was "an attempt by violent extremists to terrorize" Israelis. "Israel will not relent in its fight against terrorism," he added. "We will stand together with our allies against anyone who tries hurting us."

Josh Breiner

Two killed in shooting attack in central Israel, as 'Negev Summit' continues in south

At least two people were killed on Sunday in a shooting attack in the central Israeli city of Hadera, police said.

The attack comes as foreign ministers from Israel and four Arab countries meet in the Negev for a historic summit, along with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett's office said he was on his way to the scene on Sunday evening.

Read the full report.

Jack Khoury

PA President Abbas calls on U.S. to freeze settlements, settler violence in Blinken meeting

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called on the Biden administration to freeze West Bank settlement expansion and settler aggression in a meeting Sunday with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Ramallah.

According to Abbas, the international political action following Russia's invasion of Ukraine exposed a double standard when compared with the issue of Israeli occupation, which has not received the same attention or demands of accountability.

Jonathan Lis

Foreign ministers discuss joint defense against Iran

Foreign ministers meeting for the "Negev Summit" in southern Israel discussed regional defense cooperation against Iran on Sunday, a move Israel is eager to see materialize.

The officials discussed a "regional security architecture" designed to create deterrence solutions against Iranian threats from the air and sea, officials said.

According to sources involved in the talks, the parties, which include the foreign ministers of the UAE, Bahrain, Egypt, Morocco and Israel, will present their achievements on the issue at the end of the summit.

Yaniv Kubovich

Blinken lauds normalization, 'better than ever' U.S.-Israel ties in meeting with Gantz

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called relations between Israel and the U.S. 'better than ever,' noting Iron Dome defense aid, and urged Israel toward 'practical measures' to help Palestinians in his meeting with Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Sunday.

Blinken hailed Israel's normalization with Arab countries as "a positive and very important force for the lives of people in years to come," and called for a two-state solution to the Palestinian issue.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz in Jerusalem, on Sunday.Credit: Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry

Gantz, for his part, thanked the U.S. for the defensive aid provided, in particular Iron Dome interceptors, and called the Mideast summit "a historic and important political and security move for the future of the region."

Jack Khoury

Palestinian Foreign Ministry urges countries to 'pay attention to what Israel is doing'

Israel is ignoring the Palestinian issue and deepening the occupation at the Mideast summit, the Palestinian Foreign Ministry said Sunday in its first response to the event, hours before U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is scheduled to arrive in Ramallah.

"Israel continues its policy of annexation in the West Bank and the Judaization of Jerusalem, as well as the deepening of the occupation and settlement expansion," the statement read.

The statement alleges that Israel is attempting to make a false impression by focusing on Iran and the emerging nuclear agreement with the goal of removing the Palestinian issue from the international agenda.

The Palestinian Foreign Ministry called Sunday on the participating countries to "pay attention to the conduct of Israel and what it is doing in the occupied territories."

Samuel Sokol is a freelance journalist based in Jerusalem. He was previously a correspondent at the Jerusalem Post and has reported for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the Israel Broadcasting Authority and the Times of Israel. He is the author of Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews.

Blinken calls to prevent settlement expansion, settler violence ahead of Passover, Ramadan

■ Bennett: Hope U.S. will heed calls against delisting Iran's Guards

■ Blinken: "No daylight" between Israel, U.S. on nuclear Iran

■ Blinken calls to halt settlement expansion, settler violence ahead of Ramadan, Passover

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett praised the Biden administration's support of Israel but aired concerns over the U.S.'s possible delisting Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps from its list of terror groups in a joint press conference on Sunday with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

The briefing came ahead of the historic summit with the foreign ministers of four Arab states: United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Egypt.

Bennett launched the press conference by thanking Blinken for his role in strengthening ties with Arab states and "expand[ing] this important regional partnership," which the U.S. Secretary of State said he is working to expand. Both condemned the Houthi attack in Jeddah in Saudi Arabia last week.

The prime minister said that Israel is trying to improve the situation for Palestinians on the ground, pointing to the decision on Sunday to grant 20,000 work permits to Palestinians from Gaza and a 40 million-shekel investment in the crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip.

However, in the lead up to Ramadan, and potential tensions arising during the holy month, Blinken urged Israel to take steps to de-escalate the situation on the ground, including curbing settlement expansion and settler violence and halting home evictions.

He also called for measures on the Palestinian side, such as quelling tensions ahead of Passover, which coincides with Ramadan. Blinken will visit Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah later on Sunday.

On the topic of Iran, Secretary of State Antony Blinken again said that "there is no daylight between us" in barring Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. "Deal or no deal, we will continue to work together," he said.

Ahead of the briefing, the Prime Minister's Office released a statement thanking Blinken for his visit and for the U.S.'s continued commitment to Israel's security. It said that the two spoke about the situation in Ukraine, the deepening of normalization agreements between Israel and Arab states, and the Iran nuclear deal.

According to the statement, Bennett reiterated Israel's wish for the U.S. to uphold sanctions to Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps by keeping them on the list of foreign terror organizations, amid Iran's push to have them removed from the blacklist as a condition to reach a nuclear deal.

At the beginning of the cabinet meeting on Sunday, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Israel's foreign relations are experiencing a good period. "We are cultivating old ties and building new bridges," the Israeli prime minister said.

"We are all pouring more and more content – diplomatic, economic and security-related – into these ties, which have existed for a considerable number of years to create a relationship among the moderate countries in the Middle East. I am pleased to see the continuation of that line at the Sde Boker meeting as well."

Ben Samuels

This is what's behind Blinken's Middle East visit

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Israel late Saturday night with several pressing matters on his agenda, the first stop on his whirlwind tour of the Middle East and North Africa.

After Israel, Blinken will visit the Palestinian Authority, Morocco and Algeria. In Israel, he is meeting with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and his counterparts from the UAE, Morocco, Bahrain, and Egypt. The highest-priority issues for them in their dialogue with the U.S. is their concern over an imminent Iran nuclear deal, while continuing to build momentum behind the Abraham Accords and deepening ties with Israel and its nascent Gulf allies.

Read the full report.

Jack Khoury

Joint List slams Mideast Summit for 'deepening the occupation'

The Joint List denounced Israel's desert summit for not only ignoring Palestinians, but also for "deepening the occupation."

"The summit convening today in the Negev is not a peace summit, but another step in realizing the strategic goal of the Israeli government – pushing the Palestinian issue to the bottom of the agenda," it said in a statement.

The political alliance also drew attention to the summit's convening in the Negev region, "where the government destroys houses and dispossesses the Bedouin Arabs of their land on a daily basis."

Jonathan Lis

Blinken says Israel, U.S. see 'eye to eye' on preventing nuclear Iran

Blinken and Lapid at Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem.Credit: POOL/ REUTERS

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken vowed to work together to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons in a joint press conference on Sunday.

"We have disagreements about a nuclear agreement and its consequences, but open and honest dialogue is part of the strength of our friendship," Yair Lapid said in Jerusalem during the press conference.

Blinken, who landed in Israel on Saturday, said that the U.S. and Israel see "eye to eye" on preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. "Whether there's a JCPOA or not, Our commitment to the core principle of Iran never acquiring a nuclear weapon is unwavering," he said.

The Secretary of State also slammed Tehran's "destabilizing activities in the region and beyond," which he said have only increased since the U.S. withdrew from the nuclear deal.

Lapid, however, said that "Israel will do anything we believe is needed to stop the Iranian nuclear problem program. Anything from our point of view, the Iranian threat is not theoretical, the Iranians wants to destroy Israel. They will not succeed. We will not let them."

While Blinken thanked Lapid for his work on bolstering regional cooperation with Arab states, stating "normalization is becoming the new normal," he said that the U.S. remains committed to a "negotiated two-state solution."

Blinken will travel to Ramallah later on Sunday to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and then to East Jerusalem. He said he aims for a "positive agenda" with the Palestinians, and pledged for additional humanitarian assistance to Ramallah, as well as further private sector cooperation.

Lapid thanked his counterpart for his support of normalization efforts, but expressed disagreement over the U.S. steps to establish a consulate in East Jerusalem for the Palestinians. Though he lauded efforts to improve the day-to-day lives of Palestinians, he said that Jerusalem was not an appropriate location: "Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and Israel alone," the foreign minister said.

Reuters contributed to this report.

Jack Khoury

The symbolic timing of Israel's Mideast summit

On March 27, 2002, Arab leaders convened for an emergency meeting of the Arab League in Beirut. The chairman of the Palestinian Authority, Yasser Arafat, was besieged in the Muqata’a compound in Ramallah, in the midst of the second intifada. His participation was prevented, but no one tried to ignore him or the Palestinian question or to exclude it from the agenda. On the contrary. Read the full analysis.

Jonathan Lis

Israel's Mideast summit: What you need to know

Israel will convene its Arab partners at the Kedma Hotel in the quiet Negev kibbutz of Sde Boker on Sunday afternoon, with the foreign ministers of Egypt, Morocco, Bahrain, the UAE and the U.S. attending. Jordan was extended an unofficial invitation but declined to attend.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken landed in Israel Saturday night. He is expected to hold a press conference with Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid at 10:45 A.M. ahead of the summit, before meeting with President Isaac Herzog at 11:40 A.M. and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at 1:30 P.M.

The six top diplomats are expected to arrive at the summit at 5 P.M. before dining together at 9 P.M. on Sunday, without their national delegations, followed by a day of lengthy joint meetings on Monday, ending in a joint press conference.

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