New sprouts of Arab-Israeli peace

A high-level summit on Israeli soil helps build on the neighborliness of the 2020 Abraham Accords.

Bahrain's Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid al-Zayani, left, Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, Israel's Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Morocco's Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita, and United Arab Emirates' Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, pose March 28 at the Negev Summit.

Since its creation in 1948, Israel has had few opportunities to extend a hand to Arab nations in what its founding proclamation calls “good neighborliness.” In decades since, limited diplomatic recognition of Israel by a few Arab states has not enabled Israel to offer the “bonds of cooperation and mutual help” to many enemies. That changed this week with a high-level meeting of four Arab countries and Israel – the first on Israeli soil.

And not just any soil. Foreign ministers from Egypt, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, and Morocco gathered with top Israeli officials in the Negev desert community of Sde Boker, the resting place of Israel’s founder, David Ben-Gurion. The location was a strong sign of Israel’s rootedness in the Middle East as well as new cooperation on shared concerns for each nation’s security.

Those concerns mainly focused on how to counter Iran’s militant threats and the perception that the United States offers less protection for its friends in the region. One of the summit’s outcomes was an understanding to cooperate on security intelligence. “The shared capabilities we are building intimidates and deters our common enemies, first and foremost Iran and its proxies,” said Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid.

The war in Ukraine is also drawing Arabs and Israelis closer. Much of the region is dependent on wheat exports from Ukraine and Russia. Arab leaders cannot afford domestic tensions over rising food prices. Israel can help them, especially by offering advanced agricultural technology.

This significant upgrade in Arab-Israeli cooperation comes a year and a half after the U.S.-brokered Abraham Accords. That pact saw four Arab countries start to normalize ties with Israel, following in the footsteps of Egypt and Jordan since the 1970s.

One result of this summit is that the foreign ministers agreed to make it a regular gathering. The Palestinian Authority was also invited to join in order to better address ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflicts.

The big absentee at the summit was Saudi Arabia, the Arab world’s most influential state. But it has signaled possible official ties with Israel by allowing Israeli airliners to use Saudi airspace. Before this week’s talks, Israel sent a message of “sorrow” to Saudi leaders for attacks on their country by Iran-backed Yemeni rebels on Friday.

Across the Middle East, hands of peace are being extended to longtime rivals as many nations set up diplomatic activity. “Our region is tired of war,” says Omar Hilale, Moroccan ambassador to the United Nations. “We need peace in hearts.” For Israel and its new Arab friends, good neighborliness may be at hand.

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