'No construction freeze' on settlements says Israeli official hours after Aqaba summit

'No construction freeze' on settlements says Israeli official hours after Aqaba summit
"In the coming months, the State of Israel will authorise nine outposts and approve 9,500 new housing units in Judea and Samaria," a statement from the office of Tzachi Hanegbi read. 
4 min read
27 February, 2023
Palestinians inspect damaged building and scorched cars by illegal Israeli settlers in the town of Hawara, near the occupied West Bank city of Nablus, 27 February 2023. [Getty]

Contrary to what came hours earlier on Sunday evening in the 'Aqba Joint Communiqué" issued by the US Department of State after delegations from the Palestinian Authority, Israel, Jordan, Egypt, and the United States concluded their summit in Aqaba Jordan, Israel's national security council director Tzachi Hanegbi rushed to clarify that there would be no construction freeze on settlements.

The eight-point communiqué included an "Israeli commitment" to halt approving new settlements for four months and not authorising any new settlement outposts for six months. 

Shortly after the joint statement by the five parties was released, Hangebi issued a statement that seemed to be intended primarily for the Israeli audience and specifically Israel's far-right. 

"Contrary to reports and tweets about the meeting in Jordan, there is no change in Israeli policy. In the coming months, the State of Israel will authorise nine outposts and approve 9,500 new housing units in Judea and Samaria. There is no construction freeze or change in the status quo on the Temple Mount; neither is there any restriction on IDF activity," a statement from the office of Tzachi Hanegbi read. 

Israel and the Palestinian Authority also committed to "immediately work to end unilateral measures." This would probably mean the Palestinians would refrain from going to the UN security council and other UN agencies, such as the International Court of Justice, concerning Israel's occupation of the West Bank. 

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The summit in Aqaba came after tensions in the occupied West Bank reached new heights, with more than sixty Palestinians and thirteen Israelis killed since the beginning of the year. 

But as soon as the news came that the PA was sending a delegation to Aqaba, Palestinian factions, including Hamas, Islamic Jihad and even some from Fatah, decried the move.  

"The Americans and the Israelis seek to produce a new kind of Palestinian, the collaborator," said Palestinian activist Yousef Sharqawi to The New Arab

"They want to produce a new Blackwater of Palestinian mercenaries that take orders from a joint command made up of the US, Israel and the PA," he added.

Eitan Dangot, former Israeli commander of the unit tasked with running civilian affairs in the occupied West Bank, said the meeting in Aqaba could be one of the last for the Palestinian Authority, which is in the midst of a struggle for survival and "busy with the day after Abu Mazen." 

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Speaking to journalists, Dangot said the Palestinian Authority is "going down" with little control over Nablus and no control over Jenin. 

The former commander said the Palestinian Authority has been further weakened by Israel's raids on West Bank cities and by Hamas' growing influence. 

Referring to the recent rockets launched from Gaza towards Israeli towns, Hamas, Dangot said, has broken away from the "mechanism" of silence for silence which had been in place for the past year and a half.

Last week, following the Israeli army raid on Nablus, which killed twelve Palestinians, six rockets were launched from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. 

"Hamas continues with its main objective, attacks against Israel and breaking the PA," he said. 

The summit in Aqaba, a demand from the US, focused primarily on bolstering the PA security services and its activities in Nablus.

Palestinian critics say the Americans and Israelis would eventually lead to civil war by pressuring the PA into going to Nablus to disarm fighters. 

"The Americans and Israelis are in a hurry to settle the question of Abu Mazen's succession," Sharqawi said. 

"If Abu Mazen procrastinates, I believe Hussein al-Sheikh would accept the role," he added. 

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At the beginning of the year, a new Israeli government, the most far-right, has eroded prospects for renewed peace talks with the Palestinians and contributed to the tensions in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem. 

A series of new legislation has inflamed the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories. From shortening shower times for Palestinian prisoners, excluding fresh bread in prisons, to revoking residency rights, tensions could only rise.

Moreover, the Israeli cabinet, on Sunday, approved the institution of the death penalty for Palestinians "who committed a nationalistically motivated murder offence against a citizen of Israel," a joint statement by Netanyahu and Ben Gvir said. 

The bill is a demand of Ben Gvir's extremist party Otzma Yehudit ("Jewish power" ) party. It is expected to go for a preliminary reading in the Knesset plenum soon. After, it will be discussed by the security cabinet. 

Palestinians condemned the proposed legislation describing it as the "peak of fascism."