RAMALLAH/CAIRO: Israeli and Palestinian officials met on Sunday in Egypt for talks to calm tensions ahead of the holy month of Ramadan, which begins later this week.
The meeting, attended by the US and Jordan, follows a Feb. 26 US-brokered conference in Aqaba, the first of its kind in years, that secured Israeli and Palestinian pledges to de-escalate, but was challenged by factions on both sides and failed to halt violence on the ground.
Palestinian militant group Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip, condemned the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority for taking part in the meeting, as it was being attended by the Israeli government “which is escalating its aggression against our people.”
But Hussein Al-Sheikh of the umbrella Palestine Liberation Organization said a Palestinian delegation attended the meeting in Sharm El-Sheikh “to defend the rights of our Palestinian people to freedom and independence, and to demand an end to this continuous Israeli aggression against us.”
Political analyst Ghassan Al-Khatib told Arab News that the parties at the meeting had no influence on the events in the West Bank — the PA had no control over those involved in the events in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, just like Israel had no control over the extremist settlers who attacked the Palestinians in Huwara town.
Al-Khatib said the US wanted to appear as if it was doing something, but the Israel Defense Forces “can’t stop its military operations in the West Bank because the extreme right-wing government wants to deliver a message to the Israeli public and the opposition that it is doing its best and using a big stick against the Palestinians.”
Al-Khatib said even if the participants reached an agreement in Sharm El-Sheikh, “Israel will not implement them, as happened in the Aqaba (meeting) on Feb. 26.”
However, Ahmed Majdalani of the PLO disagreed with Al-Khatib and told Arab News that the Palestinian participation in Sharm El-Sheikh stemmed from the national responsibility of the PA toward its people.
“What is the alternative to not participating in the meeting? Will the killing, aggression, invasions, home demolitions, and arrests stop, or will they continue?” Majdalani told Arab News.
He said the PA sought to use international and regional political influence to pressure Israel to stop all unilateral measures against Palestinians.
Regarding the opposition of several factions to the participation in the Sharm El-Sheikh meeting, Majdalani said: “It is not possible to address issues related to people’s lives with political slogans.”
The PA and the Israeli government had affirmed in Aqaba their joint readiness and commitment to immediately stop unilateral measures for three to six months, and this included an Israeli commitment to stop discussing the establishment of any new settlement units for four months and to stop approving any new settlement outposts for four months.
Mustafa Barghouti, secretary-general of the Palestinian National Initiative Movement, told Arab News that he was against Palestinian participation in the Sharm El-Sheikh summit because it was a security meeting “that seeks to impose a truce without stopping settlements and occupation invasions.”
With the Israeli government facing international isolation, the PA, instead of demanding the imposition of international sanctions on Israel, is seeking to save it from its predicament, Barghouti added.
Israel did not respect any agreement reached with it and would use the Sharm El-Sheikh summit to cover up its recent massacres against the Palestinians, he said.
“The Sharm El-Sheikh summit seeks to drag the Palestinians into an internal clash while they are suffering from the daily crimes of the occupation and its settlers” Barghouti said.
Sources say that Egypt will try to pressure Israel during the summit to stop its military operations in the West Bank, but observers believe the possibility of preventing the escalation after the Sharm El-Sheikh meeting will be limited.
The meeting in the resort city “aims to support dialogue between the Palestinian and Israeli sides to work to stop unilateral actions and escalation, and break the existing cycle of violence and achieve calm,” a statement from Egypt’s Foreign Ministry said.
This could “facilitate the creation of a climate suitable for the resumption of the peace process,” it added.
It said the aim of the meeting was to support dialogue between the Palestinian and Israeli sides to work to stop unilateral measures and escalation, break the existing cycle of violence, and achieve calm in a way that paved the way for creating an appropriate climate that contributed to the resumption of the peace process.
In addition to achieving calm during the month of Ramadan, the Sharm El-Sheikh security meeting aimed to push Israel to abide by the conclusions of the Aqaba meeting, the statement said.