Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has barred Defense Minister Benny Gantz from attending a meeting in Ramallah on Monday between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Jordan’s King Abdullah II so as not to divert attention from the Negev summit, a political source in Tel Aviv said.
The foreign ministers of Israel, the United States, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Egypt are scheduled to meet in the Negev Desert on Tuesday.
The meeting is being described as "historic" because it will bring together Arab countries which have normalized relations with Israel.
Media reports said last week that Gantz was due to take part in this week’s Abbas-Abdullah II meeting to discuss efforts to prevent an escalation in violence during the holy fasting month of Ramadan, which begins in early April.
However, the sources said Bennett thought that Gantz’s attendance would overshadow the historic meeting with Arab leaders in the Negev desert. Relations between the Israeli officials are already strained.
"The Negev meeting is rare and unique and has never happened before. It is historic and therefore the prime minister wants to guarantee it is not overshadowed by any other event," the same source said.
However, other political sources said Bennett took the decision when he found out about the meeting from an "Arab source" instead of the minister himself, in what he believed was an attempt to undermine his authority.
He feared that the meeting would come up with political statements that are not supported by the right-wing parties in government.
However, despite Bennett’s opposition, political sources in Ramallah said King Abdullah is keen on Gantz attending the meeting.
The sources said Jordanian Prime Minister Ayman al-Safadi might attend the Negev Summit on condition that his Palestinian counterpart, Riad al-Maliki, join too.
"This proposal is not welcomed by Bennett who does not want to bring the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict back to the forefront," the sources added.