Last week, the Jordanian city of Aqaba hosted a summit between Israeli and Palestinian security officials, in the presence of Jordanian, Egyptian and US officials. The aim of the summit was to bring the Israelis and the Palestinians together and re-engage both to deescalate the surging violence.
While addressing the current situation in the West Bank is a complex matter, demonstrated by the outbreak of violence on the day of the summit, the fear of escalation, particularly leading up to the month of Ramadan, all sides need to reconsider the situation and try to bridge the divide between the two parties.
From a practical point of view, the summit will put more pressure on the Palestinian security apparatus, as Israel believes attacks and operations are coming from areas under the control of the Palestinian Authority. Any cooperation would require the involvement of Palestinian security forces, and any failure to contain the threat could trigger Israel to step in with operations on Palestinian territory. This would further isolate the Palestinian Authority and wider involvement of the Israelis could serve to legitimise the call Israeli annexation of more territory.
The new operations coming out of the West Bank, including in Israel, demonstrate a new approach with well-trained fighters and no indication of more traditional suicide bombers. Most of the attacks so far have ended with attempts to escape the scene, suggesting an exit plan was in place. This will give further ammunition to Israel’s case that Hizbollah and Iran have a hand in these more sophisticated operations.
This summit and the planned follow up meeting in Sharm Al Sheikh could lay the foundation for wider engagement of the Palestinians in the political scene. The Palestinian Authority has previously rejected invitations to participate in meetings in the Negev, but security coordination could be the incentive that leads to more political engagement. This could lead to a second Negev summit that includes the Palestinian Authority and by default Jordan, which previously insisted that without the Palestinian Authority present, would not take part in these meetings.
The coming chapter will face serious security challenges, so it makes sense that security is the issue that brings these parties to the table and encourages cooperation. However, escalation on the ground is almost inevitable at this stage and the risk of Palestinian-on-Palestinian confrontation is also high. Coming to the table on security now could be enough of a demonstration that the Palestinians are working to find a solution and if successful, could create potential political alternatives in a post-Abbas phase.
Dr. Amer Al Sabaileh