The MED This Week newsletter provides expert analysis and informed insights on the MENA region’s most significant issues and trends, bringing together unique opinions on the topic and reliable foresight on possible future scenarios. Today, we turn the spotlight on the summit between Israeli and Palestinian authorities, hosted in Aqaba to discuss ways to reduce the spiral of violence in the West Bank.
On February 26, Jordan hosted a special summit in the city of Aqaba that brought together Israeli and Palestinian officials along with representatives of the United States and Egypt. The meeting, which is the first of its kind in a decade, sought to discuss ways to ease tensions, which have recently led to a new, concerning spiral of violence in the West Bank. Both sides pledged to prevent further violence and work to end “unilateral measures” in the coming three to six months. Yet, despite the intention to continue down the path set out in Aqaba, the rapidly changing reality on the ground risks to make the meeting an empty shell. As the talks were unfolding, two Israeli brothers were killed by a Palestinian in Hawara, causing a new wave of violence by hundreds of Israeli settlers. Furthermore, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seems to be struggling to rein in members of his cabinet (described by many as the most right-wing in Israel’s history), such as Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who publicly rejected the proposal to freeze the plan for the construction of nearly 10,000 new housing units in the West Bank. For their part, several Palestinian factions condemned the Aqaba summit, which they perceive as yet another attempt to enforce Israel’s security at the expense of Palestinian rights.
The experts of the ISPI MED network react to the outcomes of the Aqaba meeting for the stability of the West Bank.
On the West Bank, Israel’s government wants “to have its cake and eat it too”
“A few hours after the joint communiqué was issued, Netanyahu swiftly denied its content. This behaviour suggests that the government wants, despite the flare-up in the West Bank, to have its cake and eat it too. On the one hand, the Aqaba summit represents an attempt by the security establishment (with the Prime Minister’s blessing) to reassure strategic partners such as Jordan, Egypt and the USA, as well as to avoid a further violent escalation with the Palestinians. On the other, Netanyahu knows that he cannot change his position regarding the West Bank since it is dictated by its coalition allies. That means that there is a fracture between what is needed to preserve Israel’s security and what is required to keep minister Smootrich and minister Ben-Gvir happy. Their reactions to the Aqaba summit are telling, in that it shows that they are making the decisions concerning the settlements, and therefore they are those holding power in this fragile, unbalanced government.”
Anna Maria Bagaini, Research Fellow, Hebrew University
For the Palestinian people, the Aqaba deal is nothing but an empty shell
“The Palestinian people and political factions have strongly criticized the participation of Palestinian Authority (PA) representatives in Aqaba. In their view, the summit focused solely on maintaining Israel’s safety without a plan to resume peace negotiations. President Biden’s engagement was also limited to enhancing Palestinian-Israeli coordination, and nothing was done about stopping Israeli settlements and confiscations. The meeting only determined the deployment of three PA units to Nablus and Jenin, which have recently witnessed several attacks. Furthermore, the Palestinians in the West Bank have lost their confidence in their leadership and cancelling the election – supposed to be held in 2021 – was a key contributor to the ongoing tensions. Instead of putting pressure only on their side, the Palestinian people expect US and EU to exert efforts to stop the radical policies and practices of the new Israeli government – which is considered the most right-wing ever- and to resume peace talks and enable parliamentary elections in Palestine. Without these steps, tensions will persist.”
Omar Ismail Shaban, Director, PalThink for Strategic Studies
A chance for Amman to prove that it still has a meaningful mediating role
“With the Aqaba meeting and communique, Jordan is attempting to reinforce its role as a close partner of the United States and a capable interlocutor between the Palestinians and Israelis, especially after being side-lined by the Trump administration. Amman has an interest in maintaining stability across its eastern border and not igniting domestic tensions should Israel’s continued escalation result in an intifada and full-scale war between the two parties. As the custodian of the Haram Al-Sharif in Jerusalem, the Hashemite Kingdom needs to prove that its role still matters. With Ramadan only weeks away, the potential for conflict is high as Muslim worshippers descend in large numbers to the holy site. Yet the Kingdom has little leverage to counteract what was an immediate response from Israeli government officials: no end to settlements and wildly extremist calls for violence in the West Bank, such as the Israeli Minister of Finance Bezalel Smotrich’s call to wipe out a West Bank village off the face of the earth.”
Tuqa Nusairat, Director, Strategy, Operations, and Finance, Middle East Programs, Atlantic Council
American biases on Israel spoil US policy in the area.
“The Biden administration has so far been unable to tackle the upsurge in violence because it’s unwilling to contend with the source of that violence. Instead, it considers a return to the “status quo” as the solution when, in fact, it’s the problem. By continually failing to acknowledge the overarching system of repression and processes of dispossession against Palestinians, the US misdiagnoses, mistreats, and aggravates the problem. It has historically failed as a mediator because, on this issue, it is driven by domestic political considerations rather than sound policy and fairness. It accepts Israel as Israel chooses to be seen, not as it is, creating an environment of total impunity for the most aggressive forces in Israeli society. And when you cannot see the reality of a situation, you will never be an effective problem solver. Unfortunately, that is a structural issue for American foreign policy, and I don’t see it changing soon.”
Omar Rahman, Fellow, Middle East Council on Global Affairs; and Editor, Afkār