Israel and Palestinians agree to de-escalate tensions and ‘prevent more violence’ ahead of holy month

World

Israel and the Palestinians have agreed to de-escalate tensions and “prevent more violence”.

Palestinian and Israeli delegations met in Jordan on Sunday in an attempt to reduce tensions ahead of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan which starts on 22 March.

In a joint statement, Israel agreed to halt new settlement approvals in the occupied West Bank for four to six months.

Israeli security forces stand at the site of a shooting attack in Huwara area. Pic: AP
Image:
Israeli security forces at the site of the shooting. Pic: AP

The representatives agreed to work towards a “just and lasting peace” and to meet again next month in Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt.

Egypt, Jordan and the United States, whose delegates also joined the meeting, said they consider the agreement “positive progress towards reactivating and deepening ties” between Israel and the Palestinians.

Jake Sullivan, the White House national security adviser, welcomed the commitments made by both sides, adding: “We recognise 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.”

An Israeli official said the parties will form a panel to examine restarting Israeli-Palestinian security coordination.

More on Israel

As the negotiators were meeting, a Palestinian gunman killed two Israeli brothers in the northern West Bank.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said soldiers were pursuing the attacker, and the military said it had blocked off the area.

“I ask, even when the blood is boiling, not to take the law into one’s hands. I ask that the IDF and the security forces be allowed to carry out their work,” Mr Netanyahu said.

It sparked retaliatory attacks by Israeli settlers on houses and cars in which a 37-year-old Palestinian was shot dead, Palestinian officials said.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said he held the Israeli government fully responsible for the attacks.

Hamas rejects outcome of talks

Hamas, the militant group that controls the Gaza Strip, rejected the outcome of the talks.

A spokesman for the group, Dr Musa Abu Marzouq, said: “The talks have taken place to stop the escalation in two tracks: the first one is to postpone the Israeli measures relating to the colonial settlements and the second track is to give the PA more time to control the situation.

“If the PA cannot control the situation, the Israeli army may interfere then. We reject this move because it may create Palestinian internal conflict and because the PA entered these talks very weak.

“In brief, the PA should stand with the Palestinian people and condemn and stop the Israeli crimes.”

Many are not in the mood for peace

The statement that emerged from the talks in Jordan is, on the face of it, positive.

Both sides have agreed to keep a direct dialogue, something that has been lacking as tensions have worsened in recent months.

Also agreed was a six-month freeze on settlement expansion in the West Bank and greater efforts by the Palestinian Authority to reduce violence by its citizens.

Another summit is scheduled to take place in Egypt in the coming weeks.

Although those who met in Aqaba are senior officials – the head of Shin Bet, Israel’s national security advisor, and the head of the Palestinian intelligence service – there are significant voices on both sides who did not agree with the meeting and will not willingly support the efforts.

Already, the controversial Israeli far-right Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir has tweeted saying “what was in Jordan (if it was) will stay in Jordan”.

And Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who has just taken on increased powers for overseeing the West Bank, released a statement saying “there will not be a freeze on construction and development in the settlement, not even for one day (this is on my authority)”.

Hamas also dismissed the summit as worthless.

Add to this, demonstrations across the West Bank last night in protest against Palestinian officials meeting with their Israeli counterparts and there would appear to be many who are preparing for a fight and are not in the mood for peace.

The Muslim holy month of Ramadan is just weeks away and again it coincides with the Jewish Passover festival.

If urgent steps aren’t taken to reduce the violence – by both sides – then it could get dramatically worse, very quickly.

An Israeli security official described the coming months as “the perfect storm” to me recently – without a major reversal of the violence, his prediction is looking ominously accurate.

Escalating violence

It came days after an Israeli military raid in a nearby Palestinian city killed 10 Palestinians, most of them militants. Two men over 60 were killed in the raid and a 66-year-old man died from tear gas escalation.

Violence between Israelis and Palestinians has surged since a spate of Palestinian attacks last spring, with Israel retaliating by stepping up raids across the West Bank.

More than 60 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank and east Jerusalem so far this year, according to the Associated Press.

Palestinian attacks against Israelis have killed 13 people this year.

Ramadan this year coincides with the weeklong Jewish holiday of Passover. Worshippers from both faiths are expected to flock to the holy sites in Jerusalem’s Old City – which often become flashpoints for violence.

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