Israel’s Negev summit with top Arab and U.S. diplomats was “groundbreaking” for the region. “You could not think of a more dramatic way to underscore the acceptance of Israel into the Arab world,” says USIP’s Lucy Kurtzer-Ellenbogen.

U.S. Institute of Peace experts discuss the latest foreign policy issues from around the world in On Peace, a brief weekly collaboration with SiriusXM's POTUS Channel 124.

Transcript

Julie Mason
Lucy Kurtzer-Ellenbogen, is director of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict program at the U.S. Institute of Peace. She previously worked with the Department of State as an Arabic language specialist and as the program officer for the Kennedy School of Government's Middle East initiatives at Harvard. She's here to discuss a very important summit that went down in Israel. Hi, Lucy.

Lucy Kurtzer-Ellenbogen
Hi, Julie.

Julie Mason
It's really great to have you back. This summit, I mean, it got a little bit of play, but not too much. Can you tell us about it?

Lucy Kurtzer-Ellenbogen
Sure. Well, this is really quite a groundbreaking meeting that you saw last week. You had, at the foreign minister level, Israel, and four Arab states, Egypt, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Morocco, along with the United States, again, at the foreign minister level meeting in Israel. So, deeply symbolic, certainly, you cannot think of a more dramatic way, maybe, to underscore the acceptance of Israel, into the Arab world, into the region, by these Arab states since the signing of the Abraham Accords. This meeting, which let's remember, it was Israel's invitation. And not only did it not only take place in Israel, but really in quite a symbolic location. It took place in Kibbutz de Baca, which is very much deeply associated in the minds of Israelis, as the final home of David Ben Gurion, who is really Israel's founding father, the first signer of Israel's Declaration of Independence. So again, on a symbolic level, certainly, what you had here is something quite powerful. And let's also remember that the U.S. was there, but as an invited guest, we're used to seeing these kinds of summits, when we've seen them a couple of times in the past, hosted by a third party. And here, this was really a very homegrown effort.

Julie Mason
It's interesting, isn't it to see the United States and other countries building on the Abraham Accords?

Lucy Kurtzer-Ellenbogen
Absolutely. I mean, again, when these started, I think these were seen certainly as historic and groundbreaking at the time, but I think there were questions about how far could they go, and what we've really seen to different degrees with the different countries who are engaged, but we've really seen a flourishing and full speed ahead,. in some cases. We've seen embassies established, we've seen, you know, trade agreements, agreements, on, on energy, really all sorts of signs that these were not just a blip, that these are really here to stay. And I think that the one thing to look at is, it was a lot of analysis, when the Abraham Accords were signed, that this was really Iran was the prime motivator in the sense of a shared threat by Israel and these states, certainly in the case of the Emirates and Bahrain. But what you've really seen is these agreements, and these relations, go beyond just joining forces in the face of that shared threat, but to really look at opportunities down the line. Again, when it comes to things like the economy, tourism. It was announced at the end of the summit, that there were these working groups to be established, one of which does deal with security, but other issues too: tourism, energy health, education. So again, you're you're really seeing a sense that these are countries looking for shared opportunities, not just trying to find common cause against shared security threats.

Julie Mason
Is the underlying, is an underlying motivation for that the idea that with a better economic prosperity, there will be less opportunities or less need for violent conflict?

Lucy Kurtzer-Ellenbogen
Well, certainly, that that could be part of the consideration, again, because there are many opportunities that the countries are seeing here. And I think that there's probably some sense that that this can certainly help a situation in which, you know, I think many do make an association between violence and lack of opportunity, lack of employment, those kinds of factors. But I think, I think again, this is a this is what I read into this engagement as well, which goes back to this idea of the United States being at the summit, Tony Blinken being there as an invited guest as this is really these countries, turning to what you say self-reliance, I think there's been a sense over the last number of years by the states that the US is retrenching from the Middle East. That is certainly their perception. And I think what you're seeing are these countries saying we may not be able to rely anymore on the United States pulling the weight for us towards the interests we have in mind. And so it's, it's on us to start to start putting more energy into that. And so that's what I read quite significantly into this both on the symbolic visual level, again, the United States being invited there rather than being the host, as one might have expected with this kind of dramatic summit in the past, but really also a taking the reins of their own future.

Julie Mason
What about the two-state solution idea? We know the Israeli the current Israeli government is not that interested?

Lucy Kurtzer-Ellenbogen
Yes. So what was very interesting another interesting element about this summit actually, I it's, it's unclear to me whether this was coincidence, but it actually happened exactly 20 years to the day since the signing of the Arab Peace Initiative in 2002. And just a quick reminder of what the Arab Peace Initiative was, that was a groundbreaking agreement itself at the time where the Arab states at the Arab League summit in Beirut, came together and said, after decades since 1967, of saying we will not recognize this, well, we will not negotiate with Israel, we will not have peace with Israel. Of course, Egypt and Jordan had made peace in the meantime, quite controversially, at first, but but there had really been this block of non-acceptance of Israel and holding to those three nose principles that in 2002 of the Arab Peace Initiative, the state said, we will agree to normalize relations, and have peace with Israel, once there is a negotiated two state solution and a Palestinian state is created. And that line had really been held to until the Abraham accords broke that paradigm of Palestinian state two state solution having to happen first. So you have the summit happening 20 years to the day since that was signed. And so one wouldn't be wrong to say, Well, it seems like no longer is this idea of needing to be a Palestinian state holding back any progress or cooperation between the states. But I think it is also important to note that if you look at the press conference at the end of the summit, the term two state solution was used a lot. Tony Blinken, the state secretary of state made a point of saying that this summit is historic as it is, and these relations are no substitute for progress on the Israeli Palestinian front. You had the Moroccan Foreign Minister emphasizing the importance of reaching that goal. You had the Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, making that front and center of his remarks. The Bahraini Foreign Minister also mentioned it. So I think what we see is yes, we are no longer at a point where these kinds of relations, the shared interests, the states see will be held back by no progress on that front. But the issue is certainly still alive. And well. And we should note as well, in that that glaringly missing from this summit was Jordan. Yeah, who while the summit was happening was actually in Ramallah meeting with President Abbas.

Julie Mason
Ah, so it was it was a scheduling conflict and not some sort of a deliberate omission on anyone's part.

Lucy Kurtzer-Ellenbogen
I think we don't know that. I don't know if we will ever know that. But it was certainly a striking juxtaposition that King Abdullah of Jordan was meeting with the heads of the Palestinian Authority to talk about concerns of violence, that everyone is very concerned about a period of heightened tensions, Ramadan started over the weekend, Passover is upcoming Easter will also happen. And those tend to be times when tensions do flag, particularly in Jerusalem around shared holy sites. And again, of course, the summit also took place against the backdrop of a spike in terror attacks. In Israel, I believe there were 11 fatalities, victims of terror attacks in just one week in that period surrounding the summit. So again, this is a conflict that can be maybe put aside at times but will not be ignored.

Julie Mason
And finally Lucy, this summit was very far from Ukraine, but did the conflict in Ukraine come up at all?

Lucy Kurtzer-Ellenbogen
I am quite sure the conflict of Ukraine was on the agenda. You know, each of these Middle East actors has a different set of considerations and center interests in relation to this conflict and also at times different from the United States. You know, if you look at Egypt, just as one party who was there, they are the largest importer of wheat in the world, and I believe over 70 percent of that wheat comes from that region comes from Russia and Ukraine, I believe, primarily Russia, you have a period of time, but because of this war, there's oil prices are rising wheat and other staples, you know, as the prices of those rising, there is absolute concern in many of these countries about the destabilizing effects. So for sure, we can assume I think that this issue was ongoing. The Russian war in Ukraine was certainly probably front and center on the agenda and from the United States perspective. They also have an interest in getting certainly the UAE who was there to really to help them mitigate against the rising oil prices you're seeing because of this so far. That's revealed some tensions in the UAE and Saudi and U.S. relationship. But this is something that all these actors have very much on their mind.

Julie Mason
Lucy Kurtzer-Ellenbogen, thank you so much for joining me this morning.

Lucy Kurtzer-Ellenbogen
Thank you for having me on, Julie.

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