Israelis, Palestinians pledge to curb violence at Jordan meeting

Israeli and Palestinian officials pledged to de-escalate surging violence after meeting on Sunday, issuing a joint statement in which Israel said it would halt discussions about new settlement units in the occupied West Bank for four months.

Attended by senior U.S., Jordanian and Egyptian officials in addition to the Israeli and Palestinian delegations, the meeting in Aqaba, Jordan, was the first of its kind in years.

The Israeli and Palestinian sides said in their statement that they would work closely to prevent “further violence” and “reaffirmed the necessity of committing to de-escalation on the ground.” They affirmed their commitment to previous agreements.

Jordan, along with its allies Egypt and the United States, said the meeting was a sign of “major progress towards re-establishing and deepening relations between the two sides.”

But underlining the challenges, Palestinian militant group Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip, called the meeting “worthless,” and condemned the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority for taking part.

The meeting was held as anxiety mounts about an escalation in violence in the run-up to the holy Muslim month of Ramadan that begins in late March.

Israel and the Palestinian Authority “confirmed their joint readiness and commitment to immediately work to end unilateral measures for a period of three to six months,” the statement said.

“This includes an Israeli commitment to stop discussion of any new settlement units for four months and to stop authorization of any outposts for six months.”

Implications for Netanyahu’s government

That could cause trouble in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government, one of the most right wing in Israeli history.

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who also has responsibilities over Jewish settlements in the West Bank, quickly said he would not abide by any such agreement.

“I have no idea what they spoke about or not in Jordan,” Smotrich wrote on Twitter. “But one thing I do know: there will not be a freeze on the building and development in settlements, not even for one day (it is under my authority).”

The Palestinians aim to establish an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as its capital — territories Israel captured in a 1967 war.

But peace talks have been stalled since 2014 and Palestinians say Jewish settlement expansion has undermined the chances of a viable state being established.

Three Palestinian gunmen are shown sitting together at a meeting.
Armed Palestinians attend a news conference to condemn an Israeli-Palestinian meeting hosted by Jordan on Sunday. (Raneen Sawafta/Reuters)

Israel on Feb. 12 granted retroactive authorization to nine Jewish settler outposts in the West Bank and announced mass construction of new homes within established settlements.

A senior Israeli official said there would be no change to the previous decision regarding authorization of those outposts and 9,500 housing units. Netanyahu seemed to downplay any commitment, saying Israel would continue settlement building along previous plans, and saying there “will not be any freeze.”

The UN Security Council issued a formal statement on Feb. 20 denouncing Israel’s plan to expand settlements on occupied Palestinian territory, the first action the United States has allowed the body to take against its ally Israel in six years.

‘Historic gathering’

U.S. President Joe Biden thanked Jordan’s King Abdullah for “convening this historic gathering,” U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said in a statement.

“We recognize that this meeting was a starting point and that there is much work to do over the coming weeks and months to build a stable and prosperous future for Israelis and Palestinians alike. Implementation will be critical,” he said.

The participants will meet again in March in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. They agreed to “maintain positive momentum and expand this agreement towards wider political process leading to a just and lasting peace,” their statement said.

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