Jordan is hosting a meeting between top Israeli and Palestinian officials in a bid to halt a surge in deadly violence in the occupied West Bank that has stoked fears of a wider escalation, according to officials.
The meeting on Sunday is being held in the Red Sea port of Aqaba and will be attended by representatives from the United States and Egypt.
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The planned talks come days after Israeli forces carried out a raid in the occupied West Bank city of Nablus that killed 11 Palestinians. The death toll in Wednesday’s raid was the highest since the second Intifada of 2000-2005.
The intensifying violence has killed 62 Palestinian adults and children since the start of this year. Ten Israelis and a Ukrainian tourist have died in the same period. The United Nations meanwhile said last year was the deadliest period for Palestinians in the occupied West Bank since 2006, with Israeli forces killing 171 Palestinians, including 30 children, in that period.
A Jordanian government official, speaking to the AFP news agency, said Sunday’s “political-security meeting is part of stepped-up ongoing efforts by Jordan in coordination with the Palestinian Authority and other parties to end unilateral measures [by Israel] and a security breakdown that could fuel more violence”.
The talks aim to agree on “security and economic measures to ease the hardships of the Palestinian people”, said the official, who requested anonymity.
The Reuters news agency quoted an unnamed Jordanian official as also saying that “such a meeting has not happened in years … It’s a major achievement to get them together.”
Sources with knowledge of the meeting said Palestinian Authority [PA] intelligence chief Majed Faraj and the head of Israel’s Shin Bet domestic security agency Ronen Bar were set to be in attendance.
Earlier this month, Jordan’s King Abdullah met US President Joe Biden and held talks with his Middle East envoy Brett McGurk in which Washington — a staunch ally of Israel, Egypt and Jordan — warned of the threats to regional security and lobbied for a resumption of stalled talks on Palestinian statehood. McGurk is set to take part in Sunday’s meeting, according to officials.
King Abdullah also met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jordan’s capital, Amman, in January.
The king stressed “the need to maintain calm and cease all acts of violence”, the royal palace said at the time.
Abdullah also reaffirmed Jordan’s position in support of a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians to end the decades-old conflict.
Jordan has been concerned about stepped-up Jewish settlement building, and has accused Israel of trying to change the status quo in Jerusalem’s holy sites. Israel denies the allegation.
In the 1967 Middle East war, Israel captured the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, territories the Palestinians seek for an independent state.
Palestinian statehood talks have been stalled for almost a decade.
Palestinians react to Aqaba talks
The ruling Fatah movement of PA President Mahmoud Abbas, who has been ruling without decree since his original mandate expired in 2009, said the talks are aimed at halting the violence.
“The decision to take part in the Aqaba meeting despite the pain and massacres being endured by the Palestinian people comes from a desire to bring an end to the bloodshed,” Fatah said on Twitter.
However, the talks were not well received by many Palestinians, who view the US as a dishonest broker favouring the Israeli side.
Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, slammed the Palestinian Authority’s participation.
The meeting is “a blatant attempt to cover up ongoing [Israeli] occupation crimes, and a green light for it to carry out violations against our people and land and holy sites”, Hamas said in a statement.
In an interview with a local Palestinian agency, the mother of Ibrahim al-Nabulsi, one of the leaders of the armed resistance movement in Nablus who was killed last year, stressed that the settlement process had failed despite the passage of more than 30 years since its inception.
The Israeli occupation wants to “annihilate the Palestinian people”, Huda al-Nabulsi said, so “attempts to reach a settlement or peace have not succeeded and will not succeed”.
“The United States of America supports its spoiled son Israel with weapons, while claiming that it supports the Palestinians with money,” she added.
In Gaza, dozens of university students held a gathering to protest the Aqaba meeting, and masked activists burned pictures of Israel’s far-right minister Itamar Ben-Gvir.
“How would we accept these meetings which concede the rights of the Palestinian people and the right to resistance?” asked Youssef Seyam, a university student.
Meanwhile, in Huwara, a town south of Nablus that is still reeling from the deadly Wednesday raid, two Israeli settlers were shot dead by a Palestinian gunman who fled the scene.