Deaths throw dampener over accord

Continuing violence raises doubts over peace prospects in Middle East

A Palestinian man walks between scorched cars in a scrapyard, in the town of Hawara, near the West Bank city of Nablus, Feb 27, 2023. (PHOTO / AP)

Prospects for easing tensions between Israel and Palestine following a security summit of the two sides with Jordan, Egypt, and the United States have been dampened by settlers' attacks in the occupied West Bank and remarks by Israeli officials.

Four people died and more than 100 were injured in renewed violence after the five parties in Jordan said they were ready immediately to work to end unilateral measures for three to six months, something some Palestinian factions oppose.

Persistence in repeating the same thing without taking any further action is unlikely to produce a result.

Belal Alakhras, political analyst and Palestinian researcher at the University of Malaya in Malaysia

In a joint communique of the Aqaba summit on Sunday, the Israeli and Palestinian sides affirmed their commitment to "all previous agreements between them", and the necessity of committing to de-escalation on the ground to prevent further violence.

The five parties also recognized the importance of upholding the historic status quo at holy sites in Jerusalem, including the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, "in word and practice", emphasizing Jordan's special role as custodian.

At the summit, Israeli delegates committed to ceasing talk of any new settlement units for four months and to stop authorizing any outposts for six months.

However, Belal Alakhras, a political analyst and Palestinian researcher at the University of Malaya in Malaysia, said the summit, held under US auspices, provides "no effective solution to the situation in Palestine" and can "divert attention from the real issues currently facing the Palestinians".

Dina Yulianti Sulaeman, director of the Indonesia Center for Middle East Studies and lecturer in international relations at Padjadjaran University in Indonesia, said: "Ending the violence in Palestine can only be realized with one solution: giving the Palestinian people their right to independence.

"I believe Israel's promise to delay the construction of new settlement units for six months is only an attempt to buy time, considering that the escalation in the West Bank is troublesome for Israel."

A day after the agreement was reached at the Aqaba summit, Israel's Minister of Finance Bezalel Smotrich had said he refused to stop building settlements, Sulaeman said.

Building settlements by expelling Palestinians from their land and homes shows that what Israel is doing is "colonization", she said, and that "without stopping colonization, violence will continue".

Hours after the summit, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the approval and construction of new housing units in the Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank "will continue according to the original planning and construction schedule, without any changes", Xinhua News Agency reported.

Agreement disowned

Several Israeli cabinet ministers have also disowned the agreement, with Smotrich saying construction in the settlements will not halt, "not even for one day".

Alakhras of the University of Malaya said the summit focused "primarily on the consequences of the Israeli occupation" and "was driven by the concern of the Israeli government and Washington "regarding increased instances of Palestinian resistance, particularly in the West Bank.

"The root causes of the Palestinian issue, such as the military occupation and the denial of basic rights to Palestinians, were not addressed," Alakhras said.

"The Israeli government benefits from these measures as they shift the focus to security concerns and do not bring about any substantial changes on the ground."

On Sunday a Palestinian gunman killed two Israeli brothers, both residents of the Jewish settlement of Har Bracha, in a drive-by attack near Hawara, south of the city of Nablus in the West Bank. A Palestinian man was later shot dead, and homes in Palestinian villages were set on fire. On Monday suspected Palestinian gunmen killed an Israeli-American motorist.

The Palestinian Red Crescent Society in the West Bank said more than 100 Palestinians were injured during clashes with Israeli soldiers and settlers.

Alakhras said: "The Aqaba summit has further weakened Palestinian national unity, as most Palestinian factions rejected it. To address the fundamental issue of occupation, positive involvement from relevant regional and international powers is needed, without relying on the biased role of the United States.

"Persistence in repeating the same thing without taking any further action is unlikely to produce a result."

Agencies contributed to this story.