Jun 14, 2023 - World

Scoop: Morocco Negev Forum ministerial meeting postponed — again

Secretary of State Tony Blinken (center) and the foreign ministers of Bahrain, Egypt, Israel, Morocco and the UAE hold a press conference at the Negev summit in Israel in March. Photo: Handout/Israeli Foreign Ministry/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Secretary of State Tony Blinken (center) and the foreign ministers of Bahrain, Egypt, Israel, Morocco and the UAE hold a press conference at the Negev summit in Israel in March 2022. Photo: Handout/Israeli Foreign Ministry/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

A long-awaited ministerial meeting of the Negev Forum is now expected to take place next month after the Moroccan government postponed it for the fourth time, three U.S. and Israeli officials told Axios.

State of play: The meeting was originally scheduled for March, but Arab members have expressed concerns about publicly engaging with the right-wing Israeli government.

  • The Negev Forum was established in March 2022 in an unprecedented meeting in Israel attended by Secretary of State Tony Blinken and the foreign ministers of Israel, Egypt, the UAE, Bahrain and Morocco.
  • The idea was that the forum would be a platform for multilateral cooperation in the region in the fields of health, economy, climate change, water and security.

Driving the news: There was optimism among the Biden administration and Israeli government officials that the meeting would take place on June 25, but the Moroccans asked the U.S. again to postpone the meeting due to the Islamic holiday Eid al-Adha, which starts only a few days later, the three U.S. and Israeli officials said.

  • According to the officials, the Moroccans asked to schedule a new date in July.
  • The Moroccan Foreign Ministry did not respond to a request for comment.

The big picture: It's not just the delays the forum is grappling with. The Biden administration and several member states want to change the group's name, which refers to Israel's Negev region.

  • U.S. and Israeli officials say the Biden administration thinks that using a more general name or an acronym will help in convincing more countries in the region to join.
  • The officials say one name that was proposed was AMENAthe Association of Middle East and North African Countries.
  • Morocco asked that the new name include the word, "peace." It was then proposed that the forum be called AMENA PD, or the Association of Middle East and North African Countries Peace and Development, the officials said.
  • No final decisions have been made.

What they're saying: A State Department spokesperson declined to comment on private diplomatic discussions and said they have nothing to announce at this time.

  • “The Negev Forum demonstrates the promise and tangible benefits of regional integration, bringing the region together to discuss solutions to shared challenges. We are continuing to consult with partners about a second Negev ministerial this year," the spokesperson said.

What to watch: Since the current Israeli government came to power late last year, several Arab countries have paused a lot of their cooperation with Israel — mainly when it comes to public meetings.

  • If the Negev Forum ministerial does convene, it would be a positive sign regarding the willingness of Arab countries, especially those who were part of the Abraham Accords, to work with Israel's right-wing government.
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