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Israeli, Palestinian officials agree in Sharm el-Sheikh to de-escalate tensions

The security summit, during which Israel agreed to stop discussing new settlement units for four months and authorizing outposts for six month, comes nearly a month after the two sides agreed on the need for a “de-escalation” at the Aqaba talks.

Palestinians attack Israeli security personnel during a counter-terrorism operation in Nablus, Feb. 22, 2023. Photo by Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90.
Palestinians attack Israeli security personnel during a counter-terrorism operation in Nablus, Feb. 22, 2023. Photo by Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90.

Israeli, Palestinian, Jordanian, Egyptian and U.S. officials met in the Egyptian Red Sea resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh on Sunday, amid escalating tensions in the region in the run-up to Ramadan. The security summit—during which an Israeli man was wounded in a second Huwara terrorist attack—came nearly a month after a similar summit took place in the Jordanian port city of Aqaba.

“The five Parties held thorough discussions on ways and means to de-escalate tensions on the ground between Palestinians and Israelis, in order to pave a way forward towards the peaceful settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians,” according to a joint statement, which the U.S. State Department released.

The parties agreed to nine points, according to the statement, including Israelis and Palestinians reaffirming “joint readiness and commitment to immediately work to end unilateral measures for a period of three to six months.” Israel committed to “stop discussion of any new settlement units for four months, and to stop authorization of any outposts for six months.”

Israelis and Palestinians also recommitted to prior agreements, “in particular, the legal right of the Palestinian National Authority to carry out the security responsibilities in Area (A) of the West Bank, in accordance with existing agreements, and will work together towards realizing this objective,” per the statement. It added that both sides “agreed to develop a mechanism to curb and counter violence, incitement and inflammatory statements and actions.”

The parties also agreed to “take the necessary steps towards improving the economic conditions of the Palestinian people,” to “significantly enhance the fiscal situation of the Palestinian National Authority” and to maintain the “historic status quo at the Holy Sites in Jerusalem, both in word and in practice.”

U.S. President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke by phone on Sunday, during which Biden welcomed the Sharm el-Sheikh meeting and “reinforced the need for all sides to take urgent, collaborative steps to enhance security coordination, condemn all acts of terrorism, and maintain the viability of a two-state solution,” per a White House readout.

“The president also underscored his belief that democratic values have always been, and must remain, a hallmark of the U.S.-Israel relationship, that democratic societies are strengthened by genuine checks and balances, and that fundamental changes should be pursued with the broadest possible base of popular support,” per the readout. “The president offered support for efforts underway to forge a compromise on proposed judicial reforms consistent with those core principles.”

Biden also “reiterated his unwavering commitment to Israel’s security and the ongoing cooperation between our national security teams, including to counter all threats posed by Iran,” per the readout. The White House did not state whether the U.S. president discussed strengthening of democratic society and genuine checks and balances in the context of the U.S.-Palestinian relationship.

“Glad to see that the Israelis are talking to the Palestinian Authority ahead of Ramadan,” Jonathan Schanzer, senior vice president for research at Foundation for Defense of Democracies, wrote on Twitter. “I am not clear what concrete measures come out of this.”

According to Hebrew media reports earlier in the day, among the participants at the meeting were to be Israeli National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi, Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) Director Ronen Bar and Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Maj. Gen. Ghassan Alian, among others.

On the Palestinian Authority side, reportedly, were P.A. Civil Affairs Minister Hussein al-Sheikh, General Intelligence Service head Majed Faraj and P.A. leader Mahmoud Abbas’s political adviser Majdi al-Khalidi.

U.S. President Joe Biden’s senior Middle East adviser Brett McGurk and the foreign ministers of Jordan and Egypt were also scheduled to participate.

At the Aqaba meeting, Israel and the Palestinian Authority affirmed the need to “commit to de-escalation on the ground,” according to Jordan’s Foreign Ministry. Israel also committed to “stop discussion of any new settlement units for four months and to stop authorization of any outposts for six months,” according to the U.S. State Department.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denied the report, stating on Feb. 26 that “there is not and will not be any freeze.”

Ramadan starts on March 23 and ends on April 21.

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