Israel pledges West Bank settlement freeze at Jordan talks, far-right ministers vow defiance
Israeli officials pledged to temporarily freeze settlement construction and approval in the occupied West Bank after rare talks in Jordan on Sunday – but far-right Israeli ministers rubbished that commitment, and vowed to continue with settlement construction.
The Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority "confirmed their joint readiness and commitment to act immediately to stop unilateral measures for a period of three to six months", a joint statement after the meeting in the Red Sea resort of Aqaba said.
This includes an Israeli commitment "to stop discussing the establishment of any new settlement units for a period of four months" and to not legalise any unofficial wildcat outposts for six months, according to the statement.
Bezalel Smotrich, leader of the far-right Religious Zionism party and Israeli finance minister, was reported by Times of Israel as saying after the meeting: "There is one thing I do know: there will not be any freezing of building and developments in settlements for even one day (and it’s under my authority).”
Israel's far-right government had approved the construction of thousands of settlement units in the West Bank in recent weeks, to international outrage.
The Aqaba talks, which were attended by US National Security Council coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa Brett McGurk as well as Jordanian and Egyptian security officials, were ill-received by many Palestinian factions after 11 Palestinians were killed Wednesday when Israeli troops raided the West Bank city of Nablus.
Some 62 Palestinians have been killed in the occupied West Bank since the start of 2023, according to the Palestinian health ministry, putting this year on track to be among the deadliest in decades.
"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," the ruling Fatah movement of president Mahmoud Abbas had said on Twitter.
Khaled al-Batsh, a leader of the Islamic Jihad militant group in Gaza, told reporters the Palestinian Authority's talking part was "a dangerous national transgression of all national norms in light of the ongoing occupation crimes in the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem".
He warned the PA of "consequences".
Islamist group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, in a statement also rejected the PA's participation, calling the talks "a blatant attempt to cover up ongoing occupation crimes".
As the talks were underway, two Israeli civilians were killed in a shooting close to Nablus.
In Jordan, state broadcaster Al-Mamlaka said the meeting was "the first of its kind in years between Palestinians and Israelis with regional and international participation", and would address "the situation in the Palestinian territories".
King Abdullah II met McGurk and stressed "the importance of intensifying efforts to push for calm, de-escalation in the Palestinian territories, and stopping any unilateral measures that would destabilise stability and undermine the chances of achieving peace," a royal court statement said.