Israel agrees to halt settlement outpost authorisation at Sharm El-Sheikh summit amid Palestinian scepticism
Israel has agreed to stop authorising settlement outposts for six months following a meeting in Egypt on Sunday amid widespread Palestinian scepticism.
The one-day summit, seeking to ease tensions ahead of Ramadan, took place in the resort city of Sharm El-Sheikh between representatives of the Palestinian Authority (PA), Israel, Egypt, Jordan and the United States.
It followed a previous summit in the Jordanian port city of Aqaba in February. Despite Israel then agreeing to de-escalation – a commitment it made again on Sunday – violence against Palestinians has continued.
On the same day as the Aqaba meeting, settlers responded to the killing of two Israelis in the town of Hawara by burning houses in an attack that killed a Palestinian. An Israeli commander called the incident a "pogrom".
The Egyptian summit's final statement said Israel had committed to "stop discussion of any new settlement [housing] units for 4 months and to stop authorisation of any outposts for 6 months".
All Israeli settlements in the West Bank violate international law but outposts are settlements currently not recognised even by Israel.
The summit statement, published on Twitter by the Egyptian foreign ministry spokesperson, said both the Israeli government and PA "reaffirmed their joint readiness and commitment to immediately work to end unilateral measures for a period of 3–6 months".
البيان الختامى لاجتماع شرم الشيخ الخماسي اليوم pic.twitter.com/YVLjqm2NM8— Egypt MFA Spokesperson (@MfaEgypt) March 19, 2023
While not explicitly mentioned, measures viewed as unilateral, or taken without an agreement, could include Palestinian efforts to hold Israel accountable at the UN or through international legal mechanisms.
In November, then-Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid decried as "unilateral" an ultimately successful attempt at the UN to request an International Court of Justice opinion on Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territory.
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken in March 2021 criticised "unilateral judicial actions" after the International Criminal Court's then-chief prosecutor announced the opening of a probe of alleged war crimes in Palestine.
The Sharm El-Sheikh statement also said the Israelis and Palestinians reaffirmed the PA's "legal right" to carry out the "security responsibilities" in Area A of the West Bank, which Israel officially recognises as being under full PA control.
The two sides will "work together towards realising this objective".
It implies an undertaking from Israel to reduce the frequency of the military raids it carries out almost every day in the West Bank, particularly in cities like Jenin and Nablus.
However, an Israeli military source was quoted by broadcaster Channel 12 on Saturday as saying "Israel has no intention of stopping the raids on Palestinian cities".
These operations are often deadly and there has been a spike in the number of casualties this year.
So far in 2023, 89 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces and settlers, according to the Palestinian health ministry.
The reference to the PA's security responsibilities also suggests Israel and the US expect it to curb the activities of militant groups like Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and the relatively new Lions' Den.
Ahmad Ghoneim, a leader in the Fatah movement that dominates the PA, told The New Arab Washington is "trying to impose a security plan whereby the PA cracks down on the emerging resistance groups".
He warned that if the governing body tries to implement the plan it will "undermine its own existence and that of the Palestinian people".
Blinken, the US Secretary of State, has pushed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to agree to an American security plan to restore the PA's grasp on Jenin and Nablus, news website Axios previously reported, citing American and Israeli officials.
The five countries party to Sunday's summit agreed to create a mechanism to help improve the Palestinian people's economic conditions and "significantly enhance" the PA's finances.
It "will report to the quintet leadership in April" in a "resumed session of the meeting in Sharm El-Sheikh".
Israel and the PA also agreed to set up a mechanism to "curb and counter violence, incitement and inflammatory statements and actions". This will also report next month.
Despite the agreements announced in the joint statement, the meeting took place under a cloud of staunch Palestinian scepticism.
"The Palestinians will get nothing from this summit," said prominent Palestinian activist Issa Amro on Sunday before the statement was released.
"The summit is about benefitting… some Palestinian leaders who are outdated and they are not representing the Palestinians after they cancelled the election [in 2021].
"The majority of Palestinians… are refusing this kind of fake propaganda summit. What we need is that the American administration, the Egyptians, the Jordanians be firm with Israel to stop its occupation, its apartheid, its settlement expansion and its attacks on the Palestinians."
The summit also faced strong opposition from Palestinian factions, from the Islamist group Hamas to the leftist movement the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).
On Sunday morning, before the Sharm El-Sheikh statement was issued, Hamas said it "strongly condemns" the PA's involvement in the meeting.
PIJ and the PFLP issued a joint statement on Saturday calling the PA's participation in Egypt a "coup against the popular will".
"The Zionist enemy [Israel] is taking advantage of these summits and security meetings to launch more aggression and heinous massacres," the two groups added.
Ghoneim, the Fatah leader, on Thursday issued a warning on Facebook.
"Between Aqaba and Sharm El-Sheikh is a river of bloody scarlet," he said.