Israeli and Palestinian officials began on Sunday talks in the Jordanian Red Sea port of Aqaba that seek to restore calm after a surge in violence stoked fears of a wider conflict, an official said.
It’s unusual for Israelis and Palestinians to jointly participate in a regional meeting, and this is the first such gathering since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new government was sworn in two months ago.
Israel will be represented at the meeting by National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi, Shin Bet head Ronen Bar, the Coordinator for Government Activities in the Territories Maj.-Gen. Ghasan Alyan and Foreign Minister Director-General Ronen Levy.
It comes following a deadly IDF raid in Nablus last week and the subsequent rocket fire from Gaza into Israel earlier this week. The Palestinian Authority has faced criticism from some Palestinians for agreeing to attend the meeting.
Palestinian sources said PLO Executive Committee Secretary-General Hussein al-Sheikh, General Intelligence Service head Majed Faraj and Majdi al-Khaldi, a senior adviser to PA President Mahmoud Abbas, would represent the Palestinians at the meeting.
Aims for the meeting
According to the unnamed source, the meeting comes in the context of efforts made by Jordan, in coordination with the PA and other parties, “to halt unilateral actions and the security deterioration that could lead to more violence.” At issue have been Israeli settlement activities and IDF raids in Palestinian cities to rout out terror cells. During the meeting, the Israelis and Palestinians are also expected to discuss “security and economic measures that would ease the suffering of the Palestinian people,” the source added.
The source said that ending all unilateral actions, which is the main way to stop the escalation, would be at the top of the agenda of the meeting.
Jordanian newspaper Al-Ghad quoted an “informed source” in Amman as saying the meeting is significant “because it comes at an extremely sensitive time and could result in Israeli-Palestinian understandings to de-escalate the situation.”
Hanegbi and Sheikh had met a number of times in advance of the meeting.
Israel also promised the United States that it would not transform any unauthorized outposts into new settlements for at least six months.
Israel would also like to see PA security services crackdown on Palestinian terror cells so that the IDF would no longer need to execute raids in Israeli cities.
US media outlet Axios reported that the meeting is meant to formalize the understandings recently reached between Israel and the Palestinians that led to the postponement of a UN Security Council vote on a resolution condemning Israeli settlement activities in the West Bank. The resolution was initiated by the PA and the United Arab Emirates.
A number of Palestinian factions, meanwhile, called on the PA to boycott the meeting in Jordan, dubbing it a “stab to the Palestinians and their sacrifices and a betrayal of the blood of the martyrs.”
The factions said in a statement that the meeting would only bring “shame” to the Palestinians and Arabs who are attending it. They warned that complying with American and Israeli “dictates would provide a cover for the continuation of Israeli crimes.”
The PLO’s Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) warned against the “dangerous repercussions” of the meeting, saying it aims to put pressure on the PA to stop the “popular resistance” against Israel. The DFLP warned that such a move would cause “serious internal strife” among Palestinians.
The DFLP pointed out that the meeting did not receive the blessing of the PLO Executive Committee, but was rather taken unilaterally by the political leadership of the PA.
Saleh Ra’fat, member of the PLO Executive Committee and secretary-general of the Palestinian Democratic Union, said it was impossible to reach an understanding with the right-wing government in Israel “because it has violated all its commitments to the US administration to stop settlement activities and incursions into Palestinian cities and refugee camps.” Ra’fat urged the PA leadership not to participate in the meeting and to continue its push at the UN and other parties to impose sanctions on Israel and compel it to abide by international resolutions.
Mohammed al-Hindi, a senior official with the Islamic Jihad organization, the second-largest terror group in the Gaza Strip after Hamas, claimed that the meeting in Jordan was tantamount to “surrender to the unjust American understandings.” He also claimed the meeting aims to exert pressure on the PA to resume security coordination with Israel.