The Negev Forum Summit, originally scheduled to be hosted by Morocco, has been canceled indefinitely in response to Israel’s decision to expand the construction of illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank. According to various reports, Morocco has taken this step to express its discontent with Israel’s settlement expansion plans. While Israeli media previously reported the cancellation, there are differing accounts regarding whether the United States or Morocco initiated the decision. The Negev Summit, which successfully convened diplomats from Israel, the UAE, Bahrain, Egypt, Morocco, and the United States last year, aimed to strengthen normalization efforts between these nations.
Planning for this year’s summit was underway, with several meetings held between the participating countries. However, due to heightened tensions in the occupied West Bank during the overlapping religious holidays of Passover, Easter, and Ramadan, a meeting was initially delayed in March. Axios reported earlier this month that Morocco requested a further postponement in June due to the Islamic holiday Eid al-Adha, with the summit originally slated to take place in July.
Israel’s cabinet recently announced its intention to proceed with the construction of 4,500 housing units for illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank. Adding to the escalation, the far-right finance minister, Bezalel Smotrich, who is himself a settler, has been granted full control over settlement planning in the region. This development has further strained the situation.
The Negev Forum Summit sought to solidify the normalization process among Israel, the UAE, Bahrain, Egypt, Morocco, and the United States by enhancing coordination on various issues such as security, energy, tourism, education, and water security. This move broke away from the long-standing Arab tradition of refraining from officially recognizing Israel until a resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is reached.
Morocco has been actively expanding its ties with Israel, which existed unofficially for many decades. Just recently, Israel’s top diplomat in Morocco hinted at the possibility of recognizing Moroccan sovereignty over the disputed Western Sahara. Morocco annexed the territory in 1975 after Spain withdrew from its former colony, leading to an ongoing conflict with the Polisario Front, representing the indigenous Sahrawi people. In 2020, the US recognized Morocco’s claim to sovereignty over Western Sahara in exchange for Rabat’s normalization of ties with Israel, which was a significant diplomatic achievement for Morocco.
Israel’s apparent efforts to court Morocco by considering recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over the region hinted at a potential success for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has touted his ability to achieve normalization with Arab states without making concessions to the Palestinians. However, the indefinite postponement of the Negev Summit is the latest indication that Israel is facing pushback in the Arab region. Netanyahu leads a government consisting of once-fringe, far-right lawmakers, and tensions with Palestinians have reached new heights under his administration.
Recent events have further escalated violence in the occupied West Bank. On Monday, Israel used Apache attack helicopters in the region for the first time in over two decades during a raid on Jenin. Since then, violence has intensified, with four Israeli settlers killed in a shooting incident. Over the past 24 hours, a significant number of Israeli settlers, protected by soldiers, have carried out attacks on villages in the Nablus area and the town of Turmusaya, north of Ramallah. These attacks involved the torching of homes, vehicles, and agricultural land, resulting in the death of a Palestinian man named Omar Ketin, aged 27.