Blinken plays role of political activist at Negev summit
While the foreign ministers of the US, the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco, Egypt and Israel held hands to show unity at the conclusion of Israel’s Negev summit on Monday, the gathering did not issue a joint statement. This suggests that — despite America’s participation — this was a regional conference that Washington did not sponsor or facilitate and only joined to pitch its own interests, mostly ones that were not shared by the other participants.
Instead of attempting to iron out differences and formulate a joint stance, Secretary of State Antony Blinken walked a tightrope: He wanted to show that there was no daylight with Israel, but also tried not to be seen as participating in an anti-Iran gathering.
Blinken offered contradictory thoughts on the Palestinian issue. On the one hand, he said that America supports “a negotiated two-state solution.” On the other, Washington’s top diplomat argued that America is “focused on advancing Palestinian civil and human rights (and) supporting civil society.”
But Palestinian civil society is not known for supporting the two-state solution that Blinken tried to sell to an indifferent Negev summit. On the contrary, Palestinian civil society is more inclined to advocate a “one-state solution,” or a binational state — given what they say are the realities on the ground. While support for a two-state solution has declined among Palestinians and Israelis, it has remained the official position of governments on both sides.
What the summit’s host and its two Gulf guests were interested in was to hear Blinken promise that America would not revive the faulty nuclear deal with Iran and that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps would not be removed from the State Department’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations. If anything, Israel, the UAE and Bahrain were hoping to convince Blinken to redesignate Yemen’s Houthis as terrorists for their attacks with explosive drones and missiles on Saudi and Emirati civilian targets.
Whenever the US engages with its Middle Eastern allies, it usually presents an agenda that does not line up with theirs.
In his public appearances, Blinken glossed over the issue of nuclear talks with Iran, did not offer a clear response on the IRGC and totally ignored the demand regarding the Houthis.
America remains the world’s only superpower. Leading the world in imposing crushing sanctions on the Russian government for its war on Ukraine suggests as much. But when it comes to the Middle East, the US refuses to lead and, whenever it engages with its Middle Eastern allies, it usually presents an agenda that does not line up with theirs.
Thankfully, those allies are not waiting for Washington to snap out of its unrealistic agenda, which is riddled with contradictory ideas. In America’s absence, those allies are coming together to fill the vacuum, for they understand that banding together does not mandate identical priorities. Trading favors looks good enough.
The Negev summit showed that Israel, the UAE and Bahrain have become close friends that share a joint view of regional affairs: Fear of a nuclear Iran, of its ballistic missiles and drones, and of its sponsorship of terrorist militias that destabilize the region and threaten these countries’ stability and economic growth.
Morocco is far away from Iran and thus does not see Tehran as such a pressing threat. Morocco came to the Negev summit for its own national interests, particularly winning recognition of its sovereignty over Western Sahara. Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita said as much when he told journalists that the second edition of this summit will take place in the territory next year.
For its part, the most populous Arab country, Egypt, joined the Negev talks for yet another set of national considerations. Cairo has toed a line of neutrality in foreign affairs. The Egyptian media barely mentioned the summit.
America did not go to the Negev to sponsor the formation of a joint front that can advance the interests of a Washington-led world order. Instead, Blinken showed up to atone for what he thinks have been Washington’s faults. He said he wanted Israelis and Palestinians to “enjoy equal measures of freedom, security, opportunity and dignity.”
But a two-state solution means that Israelis and Palestinians will not enjoy equal measures of anything. The fate of each nation will be decided by its own rulers. For Blinken, it seems that even when he says two states, he probably imagines one.
It is unfortunate that Blinken was at the summit as a community organizer and political activist, not as representative of the world’s sole superpower.
The last time the US gave up on its leadership role, bad things happened. This time, everyone hopes that regional powers can hold the fort until America is back.
- Hussain Abdul-Hussain is a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy. Twitter: @hahussain