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US, Mideast ministers hold unprecedented meeting

SDE BOKER: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the top diplomats of the Zionist entity and four Arab states wrapped up a landmark meeting Monday vowing to boost cooperation, which the Zionist entity said would send a strong message to its arch foe Iran. The talks brought together for the first time on Zionist soil the foreign ministers of the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco – which all normalized ties with the Jewish state in 2020 – and of Egypt, a country formally at peace with the Zionist entity since 1979.

Zionist Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said that “this new architecture, the shared capabilities we are building, intimidates and deters our common enemies – first and foremost Iran and its proxies”. “They certainly have something to fear,” he said about Iran, a country the Zionist entity is fighting in a regional shadow war and which it accuses of seeking a nuclear bomb, a goal the Islamic republic denies pursuing.

UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan called the two-day gathering “historic” and said that “what we are trying to achieve here is changing the narrative, creating a different future”. The meeting’s Sunday opening, in the Sde Boker kibbutz in the Negev desert, was marred by a shooting attack in the Zionist entity’s north that killed two police officers and was claimed by the Islamic State group, which has rarely managed to stage attacks inside the Zionist entity.

And early Monday, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s office confirmed he had caught COVID, a day after he held closed-door meetings with Blinken followed by a joint press conference without masks. The talks on restoring the 2015 Iran nuclear deal were high on the agenda at the Negev gathering and in Blinken’s meetings with Zionist officials.

The European Union’s foreign policy chief said at the weekend that an agreement with Iran to restore the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action could be reached “in a matter of days”. That has raised concern in the Zionist entity and across much of the Middle East, where many US-allied Arab states view Iran as a menace. A Zionist official, speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity, said after the Sde Boker talks: “All countries here except the US have reservations about a nuclear deal with Iran and what happened is that we got them closer to our approach.”

Blinken on Sunday stressed the Zionist entity and the US “see eye-to-eye” on the core issue of stopping Iran from ever getting a nuclear bomb, despite their differences on the JCPOA. The UAE and Bahrain formed ties with the Zionist entity under the Abraham Accords, brokered by former US president Donald Trump. Morocco then re-established relations with the Zionist entity under a separate Trump-brokered agreement.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas welcomes King Abdullah II of Jordan ahead of a meeting in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank on March 28, 2022.

Zionist leaders have argued that the normalizations highlight a changed Middle East, where Arab leaders are no longer compelled to isolate the Zionist entity over its unsolved conflict with the Palestinians. The Abraham Accords infuriated the Palestinians, who argued that they marked a betrayal of a decades-old Arab League consensus.

A small group of protesters outside the Negev venue sought to force the Palestinian issue into the room, waving placards that said “Haven’t you forgotten someone?” Iran, meanwhile, has repeatedly emphasized that it remains fully behind the Palestinian cause. “Any attempt to normalize and establish relations with the terrorist Zionists and the occupiers of Al-Quds (Jerusalem) is a stab in the back” for the Palestinians, Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said Monday.

Blinken – who departed the Zionist entity on Monday afternoon for Morocco – has voiced strong support for the Abraham Accords but cautioned that they cannot replace Zionist-Palestinian peace-building. “We have to be clear that these regional peace agreements are not a substitute for progress between Palestinians and (the Zionists),” said Blinken, who had on Sunday met Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in the Zionist-occupied West Bank. Blinken has insisted that President Joe Biden’s administration is committed to repairing Palestinian relations, which collapsed under Trump.

But the Palestinian leader told Blinken on Sunday that the West showed “double standards”, taking a hard line against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine while ignoring what he called the Zionist entity’s “crimes” against his people. As the diplomats were wrapped up in their Negev meeting, Abbas hosted Jordan’s King Abdullah II in Ramallah, the monarch’s first visit to the West Bank since 2017.

Jordan – the only Arab country with full ties with the Zionist entity that was not at the Negev meeting – has played a middleman role between the Zionist entity and the Palestinian Authority. Jordan’s king seemed to echo Blinken’s warning about the limits of normalization in his meeting with Abbas, saying that “the region cannot enjoy security and stability without a just and comprehensive solution to the Palestinian issue”, according to the official Palestinian news agency.

Abdullah’s visit, which lasted about two hours, was held less than a week before Ramadan, which last year saw waves of violence across the West Bank and Zionist-annexed east Jerusalem. Palestinian officials have repeatedly warned that the West Bank, which the Zionist entity captured from Jordan in 1967, was on the verge of “exploding”. Tensions in the occupied territory remain high between Palestinian residents and Zionist settlers, who live in communities widely regarded as illegal under international law.

Palestinians also regularly clash with Zionist security forces in the West Bank, often resulting in Palestinian deaths. Tahani Mustafa, West Bank analyst at the International Crisis Group think-tank, told AFP that Jordan was seeking to be proactive after having been “caught off guard” last year, when Ramadan tensions escalated into an 11-day conflict between the Zionist entity and the Hamas Islamists who control Gaza. Mustafa said Amman had to be particularly “sensitive about how it publicly navigates its relationship with (the Zionist entity) because of the high number of Palestinians that it hosts” inside Jordan. – AFP

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