Feb 26, 2023 - World

Palestinians and Israelis agree to take steps to de-escalate tensions

Israeli security forces deploy in the occupied West Bank town of Huwara on Feb. 26 after the Israeli military said a Palestinian gunman killed two Israelis. Photo: Ahmad Gharabli/AFP via Getty Images

Senior diplomats and security officials from the U.S., Palestinian Authority, Israel, Jordan and Egypt convened in the Jordanian Red Sea resort of Aqaba on Sunday for regional talks aimed at de-escalating tensions between Israel and the Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.

Why it matters: It is the most significant regional and international meeting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in more than a decade. The meeting is focused on security, but it also carries a lot of political significance.

  • The last time a similar meeting took place was in 2012 when Israeli and Palestinian negotiators met in Jordan in the presence of diplomats from the U.S., EU, UN and Russia.

The latest: A joint statement published by the Jordanian government at the end of the meeting said Israel committed to not discussing any new plans to expand West Bank settlements for the next four months and to not legalize any new outposts for the next six months.

  • A senior Israeli official told reporters the Israelis were clear in the meeting that the last cabinet decision to legalize nine outpsots and move forward with planning and building 9,500 new housing units in the settlements will not change.
  • The Israeli and Palestinian sides expressed their commitment to all previous agreements and committed to work on lowering tensions, deescalating the situation on the ground and preventing further violence”, the joint statement at the end of the meeting said.
  • The five countries that participated in the meeting expressed their commitment to the status quo in the holy sites in Jerusalem, according to the statement.

The senior Israeli official said the delegations that attended the summit agreed to form a joint security committee that will work on resuming security coordination between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, which was suspended several weeks ago by the Palestinians after an Israel Defenses Forces raid in the West Bank.

  • The Israeli official said the committee will also discuss the Palestinian Authority's willingness and ability to take responsibility for preventing attacks on Israel from it’s territory in a way that would allow Israel to scale back IDF raids.
  • They added the parties also agreed to establish a joint civilian committee that will work on measures to help the Palestinian economy.

Details: The senior Israeli official said King Abdullah joined the delegation for part of the discussions and welcomed the efforts to reach understandings ahead of Ramadan.

  • Brett McGurk, the White House Middle East coordinator, Barbara Leaf, the assistant secretary of state for Near East Affairs and Hady Amr, the U.S. special representative for Palestinian affairs, attended the talks.
  • Several hours after the summit started, the Israeli military said a Palestinian gunman shot and killed two Israelis near Nablus. The suspected gunman is still at large.

Flashback: The Biden administration has been trying to convene the regional summit for two years. The former Israeli government led by Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid refused, in part due to concerns of getting attacked politically by then-opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu.

  • But when Netanyahu became prime minister late last year, he quickly agreed to establish secret talks with the Palestinian leadership and later agreed to send his top advisers to attend the regional meeting.

The big picture: Sunday’s meeting was convened in part 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 settlements in the West Bank.

  • The Biden administration pushed for the summit as part of its efforts to de-escalate the situation in the West Bank ahead of the historically sensitive period of the holy month of Ramadan.

Behind the scenes: The Palestinian Authority on Wednesday threatened to pull out of the summit after 11 Palestinians, including civilians, were killed in an Israeli raid in Nablus.

  • Palestinian officials claimed it was a violation of the understandings reached last week, which included a commitment from Israel to decrease military raids in Palestinian cities, Israeli and Palestinian officials said.
  • Israeli and U.S. officials said that under pressure from the Biden administration, Jordan and Egypt, the Palestinians agreed to attend.

What they’re saying: Jordanian King Abdullah II met with McGurk on the sidelines of the summit and stressed the need to step up efforts to restore calm and de-escalate the heightened tensions and violence in the Palestinian territories, and to cease any unilateral measures that could lead to instability and undermine peace prospects, the royal court said in a statement.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan welcomed the outcome of Sunday’s meeting and stressed that implementation will be “critical.”

What's next: A follow-up meeting will take place in Sharm el-Sheikh Egypt in March to continue discussing and implementing the understandings that were reached, according to the joint statement from today's meeting.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional details from the meeting.

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