The summit raises a number of questions, specifically what could be its tangible results
In a rare summit, the first of its kind in a decade, officials from Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, the United States and the host Jordan are sitting around the same table in the city of Aqaba in southern Jordan. It’s a political summit, for all intents and purposes. And it raises a number of questions: Why Aqaba, and why now? Why is it being described as a “security” meeting? What are the interests of all parties? And above all – what will be the outcome?
The parley is being defined as a security and non-political summit because that way it’s easier for all parties and it’s also easier for all parties to “sell” the meeting to the home audience. Aqaba was chosen as the meeting place by the host and initiator of the meeting – the Kingdom of Jordan. Why now? Because the region is on fire and all parties want to calm the atmosphere, for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan to pass quietly and peacefully.
How badly is the area burning? While these lines were being written, another very serious shooting attack took place in the northern West Bank, and the result is two more Israeli civilians killed, bringing to 13 the number of Israelis killed since the beginning of 2023. Following the attack, calls began in Israel to immediately return the Aqaba delegation.
So what brings everyone to the Jordanian resort town and will it stop the bloodshed in the area?
1) Israel: Despite the lack of an Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and even though Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has announced the cessation of security contacts with Israel, or at least declared that they have halted, Israel and the PA are trying to conduct important security coordination behind the scenes. The people who manages the relationship with the Palestinian side are the head of the Shin Bet, Ronan Bar and the coordinator of the government’s actions in the territories (COGAT), General Rasan Alihan – both are representing Israel in Aqaba together with the head of the National Security Council Tzachi Hanegbi.
Quietly, a meeting between Israeli and Palestinian representatives took place about ten days ago, where it was agreed to calm the area. One of the results of this meeting was that the Palestinians withdrew a vote against Israel in the UN Security Council.
But then, at the beginning of last week, Israel had intelligence information pointing to a terrorist cell intending to carry out an immediate terror attack and the IDF launched an operation in Nablus – which rearranged the cards. In the operation, 11 terrorists were killed, and according to Palestinian reports, 100 people were injured (the vast majority from smoke inhalation). That prompted Gaza Strip terror groups to launch rockets at southern Israel, which in turn spurred an attack by the Israel Air Force.
And on Sunday – another serious shooting attack in Hawara, next to Nablus. The potential for further deterioration is great, and the timing is sensitive. Therefore – Israel is interested in restoring calm – certainly before Passover, which begins on April 5.
2) The Palestinians: In the end, Mahmoud Abbas is a moderate, certainly when compared to Hamas. Those who know him know that when Palestinians from the West Bank carry out an attack against Israel – he is far from happy. But when 11 funerals are held in his backyard in one week, and Hamas is running a delegitimization campaign against him on social media – he has to do something. On the other hand, the real incentive for the Palestinian to come to Aqaba is… money. The Palestinians need the Americans. For those who have forgotten – the Trump administration closed the financial tap to the Palestinians, and Abbas is desperate for aid. The Biden administration will not resume giving any before a commitment to peace on the ground.
3) Jordan: In the case of the kingdom, there are two influences – internal and external. Jordan is responsible for the religious safeguarding of the Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, which houses the al-Aqsa and Dome of the Rock mosques. The external influence: whenever there are security tensions, the Arab world starts its mantra of “Al-Aqsa (mosque) is in danger” and the fingers are pointed at the Jordanians. As for the inner circle, it should not be forgotten that Jordan is flooded with Palestinian refugees, and every time there is security tension, the pressure from the street on the royal house increases.
4) Egypt: Cairo has long been the main and undisputed mediator between Israel and the Palestinians. It is appreciated on both sides – a special status that is not taken for granted in the region, considering the circumstances. Passing the month of Ramadan “quietly” is also an Egyptian interest. The escalations during Ramadan are a new feature of the past years. The Egyptians go out of their minds when Ramadan begets violence, which has happened for the past two years.
5) The U.S.: The Biden administration holds the main levers of pressure on both sides – both on Israel and on the Palestinians. To the Palestinians it says “Do you want our support? Our money? Then calm down the area – and quickly.” And the Americans say to Israel, “Do you want us to deal with Iran? Want effective sanctions? Do you want Saudi Arabia within the Abraham Accords? Then calm down the area – and you will quickly decide what is really important to you.” Hints of this were expressed by the American ambassador to Israel, Tom Nides, when he spoke about Israel’s proposed legal reforms.
So what will come of this? Will holding this important summit stop the bloodshed? Reports mention a “gentleman’s agreement” to calm the region – which is not a little, but also not much considering the situation. It’s possible that in the near term, and perhaps the immediate future, Abbas will announce the return of security coordination with Israel – an important declarative step. In fact, the parties want to take the situation back a few steps, and try to calm the area.
Sometimes it is said that “the importance of the meeting lies in its existence” – and this is certainly the case. The problem is that reality intervenes again and again, day after day, until there is not much room for optimism.