Why the Aqaba summit was dead on arrival

6 min read
06 March, 2023

The commitments of the recent US-brokered Aqaba Summit are no more than ink on paper in the face of the chaos that has erupted in the occupied West Bank and Israel over the past week. 

During a meeting between top Israeli and Palestinian security chiefs, two Israeli settlers were killed in Hawara, near the West Bank city of Nablus. And in retaliation, dozens of Palestinian homes were set ablaze, leaving hundreds injured and one dead - one of the most violent settler attacks to date. 

Also mere hours after the summit, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, along with his far-right coalition members, denied the summit’s promise to pause settlement construction in the occupied territories.

"The commitments of the recent US-brokered Aqaba Summit are no more than ink on paper in the face of the chaos that has erupted in the occupied West Bank and Israel over the past week"

Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA), in the presence of representatives from Jordan, Egypt, and the Biden administration, agreed during the meeting to revamp security cooperation in an effort to de-escalate tensions ahead of the holy month of Ramadan.

The PA’s ties with Israel had been frozen since January following a deadly military raid in Jenin, in the West Bank.

“They were trying to apply a tourniquet to stop the haemorrhage and stabilise things. But that didn’t go very well,” said Dahlia Scheindlin, a political analyst based in Tel Aviv.

Live Story

The past week has witnessed “a dual track of chaos”, she told The New Arab, referencing the also “extremely volatile” domestic situation in Israel. While tensions in the occupied West Bank were on fire, some of the largest anti-government protests in Israel’s history erupted, with hundreds of thousands demonstrating against the far-right government’s plans to radically reform the judiciary.

Although Jordan, Egypt, and the US praised the summit’s “major progress” towards improving Israel-Palestine relations - the first meeting of its kind in years - it was immediately blasted by both Palestinians and Israelis alike.

Hamas, as well as other groups, slammed the PA for joining participants who represent “Zionist interests”, while many of Israel’s far-right Knesset members rejected the outcomes of the summit altogether.

“Any attempt to quiet things down has actually had the reverse effect and has actually fuelled public anger to the point where radical elements are now having far more influence,” said Tahani Mustafa, the Palestine analyst at the International Crisis Group (ICG).

“The purpose of the summit was deterrence,” Mustafa told TNA. “But it had absolutely no effect on the ground”.

Hundreds of Palestinian cars were torched and over 30 buildings were set on fire by Israeli settlers in Hawara in February. [Getty]

Palestinian Authority unravels, violence spirals

The Palestinian Authority, with its president Mahmoud Abbas in office for nearly eighteen years, has been undergoing a process of de-legitimisation and decline, unravelling the PA’s ability to maintain security.

“There is literally no one at this point in time to advocate for Palestinians as one single unanimous people,” Mustafa stated.

Only 23 percent of residents in the West Bank and Gaza Strip are satisfied with the performance of Abbas, with 75 percent demanding his resignation, according to a December 2022 study by the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research (PSR).

The PA has also been criticised for delaying elections, its Covid-19 policies, and its forceful crackdowns on activists and protestors.

"The Palestinian issue today is being minimised to be seen from a security perspective, not a political perspective"

Over 70 percent of Palestinians in the occupied territories are in support of the formation of armed groups, such as the Lion’s Den, and don’t believe the PA has the right to arrest their members or mandate their surrender of arms, according to the study.

The violence today is “not localised or contained”, Mustafa added. “When something happens in one part of the West Bank, it’s now having rippling, violent ramifications across all of the Palestinian territories,” she said. 

Less than a week following a mass raid in Nablus - one of the deadliest by the Israeli military since the Second Intifada - was the shooting of the two Israeli settlers, which prompted the settler rampage of Hawara.

And the day after the Hawara rampage as Palestinian factions called for retaliation, a former Israeli soldier was shot in Jericho, in the occupied West Bank, Mustafa noted. 

 “And unfortunately, Palestinian political elites are too busy in-fighting over who is going to succeed Abbas to actually focus on making any positive changes below,” Mustafa added.

Live Story

Palestinian interests set aside for security

The interests of Egypt, Jordan, and the US, all align with Israel; to calm down the tensions, now at an all-time high, and avoid an explosion that might lead to a regional spillover.

“The Palestinian issue today is being minimised to be seen from a security perspective, not a political perspective,” Jordanian political analyst, Amer Sabaileh, told TNA.

And the initiative for the most recent summit was “purely American”, Sabaileh added. “The US wanted to show that it hasn’t abandoned the region,” said Scheindlin, the Tel Aviv-based analyst. “It has shown that it’s not just washing its hands of Israel, Palestine, and the Middle East.”

Mustafa commented that the summit only “solidified the power imbalance between Israelis and the Palestinians”, especially regarding the security coordination agreement it laid out.

Relatives bid farewell during the funeral of 16-year-old Palestinian Montaser Shawa, who died of his wounds sustained during an Israeli army operation on 8 February 2023, in Balata refugee camp, east of Nablus. [Getty]

“Jordan would be responsible for ensuring quiet [in the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound]. Egypt would be tasked with ensuring that Hamas behaves, and the PA would be tasked with ensuring the proliferation of armed groups is kept under control,” she added.

“All the meanwhile, there was absolutely no pressure on Israel to commit to any of the promises made”. 

She referenced the international silence after the Israeli ministers’ denouncement of the summit, as well as the mere “verbal condemnation” after the Hawara rampage, with the US still steadily funnelling billions into the Jewish state and its military apparatus. 

“There are no threats to stop military funding, or to cut off any assistance [to Israel],” said Mustafa. “There has been absolutely no pressure on any of those fronts.”

"There was absolutely no pressure on Israel to commit to any of the promises made"

Low hopes for the next summit 

The next summit is slated for this month in Egypt, where participants will discuss a host of other measures before the start of Ramadan. But the participants have limited communication channels with critical actors on the ground, leaving low hopes for their ability to bring about any significant change in Israel-Palestine relations.

These summits “cannot change things on the ground”, Sabaileh said. For Jordan, although it will bear the brunt of the escalating tensions in the West Bank, it only has communication channels open with the now degraded PA, he said.

The Kingdom, formally a key player in Israel-Palestine negotiations, expelled the Hamas leadership from the country in 1999 and has failed to keep up with the Israeli right, Sabaileh noted.

“Jordan will pay the price of its inefficient diplomacy regarding the whole Israel-Palestinian issue,” he stated.

Live Story

With the limited negotiating ability of the summit participants, another actor may step into the fold. Sabaileh pointed to Morocco’s increasing role in mediating Israel-Palestinian conflicts, notably their negotiations to open the King Hussein bridge last summer and plans to host the second Negev Summit, although now postponed due to the high tensions. 

Morocco formalised diplomatic ties with Israel, as part of the 2020 Abraham Accords, but has also maintained its relationship with Hamas, hosting Hamas political leader Ismail Haniyeh in 2021.

However, Scheindlin expressed her doubts regarding the involvement of other actors. “Outside political figures know that getting involved with this conflict is like the kiss of death,” she stated.

Hanna Davis is a freelance journalist reporting on politics, foreign policy, and humanitarian affairs.

Follow her on Twitter: @hannadavis341