Jerusalem24 – Hours after the outcome of a political-security meeting between the Palestinian Authority and Israel hosted by Jordan today was publicized, both Palestinian and Israeli parties are denouncing the agreement as “a scam” that will not be adhered to, even as hundreds of Israeli settlers have descended upon Huwara south of Nablus in the occupied West Bank after a shooting attack killed two Israeli settlers this afternoon.
37-year-old Sameh Hamdullah Mahmoud Aqtash was shot and killed by Israeli settlers when they attacked the village of Zatara near Nablus, the Ministry of Health confirmed this evening.
Dozens of Palestinian homes, vehicles and businesses have been torched in Huwara, and one Palestinian was stabbed and moderately injured by a settler. A Palestinian civil defense crew was injured and a fire truck damaged when settlers pelted them with stones as they arrived at the site of a fire.
Kamal Odeh, Fatah secretary in Huwara, told reporters on the ground that “everything is burning”, with dozens of vehicles destroyed and around 20 houses and shops torched. “I’ve never seen anything like this,” he said. “We’ve been here since the First Intifada and we’ve never seen anything so vicious.”
“We ask that God be with us, and we ask all the residents of villages around us to stand up to the settlers and soldiers, because the situation is unbearable.”
Israeli daily Maariv is calling the events in Huwara a “loss of control”, quoting Israeli army officials as saying there are “not enough forces in the area to control the situation”.
“A big scam”
Israeli politicians called for interrupting the summit (the first such meeting in years) immediately after the attack. Far-right Israeli Minister of National Missions Orit Strook called for “the immediate return” of the Israeli delegation, while head of the Shomron settlements council Yossi Dagan, speaking at the scene of the attack, demanded the Israeli delegation “return from the idle conversations in Aqaba now.”
The Palestinian Islamic Jihad described the shooting in Huwara as a “strong message to the summit in Aqaba”, and later said the outcome of the summit proves “for the thousandth time” that the PA “is hostage to partnership with the enemy”.
Mustafa Barghouti, member of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Central Council, told Al-Jazeera: “It is unfortune to say that what the Palestinians experienced in this summit is a big scam, and it’s unfortunate that the PA is back to the same old approach, the same one that failed throughout the last 23 years.”
Barghouti further surmised that the summit “might result in an internal Palestinian conflict, which is a goal of Israel’s.”
Far-right extremist and Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who was just handed control over the occupied West Bank by Netanyahu’s administration, said this afternoon that there was no intention to implement a settlement freeze. “I don’t know what they talked about in Aqaba, but what I do know is that the settlements will not stop for one moment.”
Far-right extremist and Israeli Minister of National Security Itamar Ben-Gvir tweeted following the summit: “What happened (if it happened) in Jordan, will stay in Jordan.”
No hopes dashed
Israeli and Jordanian media had touted the summit, which was also attended by Egyptian, Jordanian, and United States representatives, as a bid to curb the current “escalation” in violence in the occupied West Bank including East Jerusalem. Al-Mamlakah TV quoted a Jordanian official as saying the meeting was expected to “restore calm, end unilateral measures, and curb the ongoing tension, as part of Jordan’s continued efforts in coordination with the PA to end the cycle of violence.”
Palestinians expressed strong political and popular opposition to the summit in the run-up to Sunday and throughout the summit, with protests held across the West Bank.
The meeting was also unanimously rejected by Palestinian factions including Hamas, whose statement read: “Hamas strongly condemns the Palestinian Authority’s participation in the security meeting in Aqaba, and calls on it not to be a partner in targeting the resistance and revolution against the occupation.”
Axios reported last week that the Biden administration had pushed for the meeting as part of its efforts to de-escalate the situation ahead of the “historically sensitive period of Passover and the holy month of Ramadan”.
Palestinians however were outraged at seeming overtures towards on the part of the PA only four days after the Israeli army’s massacre in Nablus which killed 11 Palestinians including a child and three senior citizens.
“We’ve been down this road”
On 19 February, Axios revealed that the PA agreed to suspend its efforts to push for a United Nations Security Council vote on their draft resolution condemning Israeli settlements after Israel announced the retroactive legalization of nine illegal Israeli outposts in the occupied West Bank as well as approved the planning and building of 10,000 new housing units in existing settlements.
In return, the US agreed to support a UN Presidential statement condemning the settlements and to host a meeting between President Biden and President Mahmoud Abbas next year.
Israel, meanwhile, agreed to temporarily suspend unilateral actions in the West Bank, including new announcements on settlement building for several months; to suspend the demolitions of Palestinian homes and Palestinian evictions for a few months; and to decrease the number of Israeli military raids in Palestinian cities. Within days of the meeting, however, all of the steps announced by Israel had been reneged on, culminating with Wednesday’s massacre in Nablus.
In addition to suspending the UN draft resolution, the PA also agreed to start implementing the Fenzel plan, a “security” plan suggested by the US that would see the PA train “special forces” to “take back control” of Nablus and Jenin. The PA also agreed to start talks on resuming security coordination with Israel – which (officially) was suspended after Israel’s massacre in Jenin last month.
Axios also revealed the following day that the Palestinians and Israelis have been holding secret talks for almost two months, since Netanyahu’s extreme right-wing administration came into office. The talks, led by Secretary General of the Palestinian Liberation Organization executive committee Hussein Al-Sheikh and Israeli National Security advisor Tzachi Hanegbi, were also at the origin of the UN resolution suspension and a catalyst for the Jordan summit.
Diana Buttu, lawyer, political analyst, activist, and former spokesperson for the PLO, expressed disbelief that the PA would agree to such conditions and to participate in the summit in the first place.
“We’ve been down this road before,” she tells Jerusalem24 “If there’s anything to learn, it’s that Israel is not a party that can be trusted.”
Palestinians should also have learned, she says, that the US will never do anything to support Palestine but rather everything to support Israel. “Let’s make it clear, the United States would have probably Vetoed any UNSC resolution. But even in the process of issuing a Veto, it says a lot about where US policy actually is. This proves to Palestinians that the US believes in Israel’s settlement construction, and Palestine’s colonization and that they don’t believe in Palestinians’ freedom.”
PA money “is tied” to security forces
The so-called Fenzel plan, drafted by U.S. security coordinator Lt. Gen. Michael Fenzel, has come to the fore several times in recent weeks. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken pressed Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas to implement the plan during a meeting on 31 January, in order to “de-escalate the security situation”.
At the time of Blinken’s visit, Palestinian officials told Fenzel the plan was problematic because it didn’t include any demands from Israel, like decreasing the Israeli military’s incursions into Palestinian cities, or take into consideration the need for the PA to build public support for such an operation, Axios reported.
According to Buttu, the problem with the Fenzel plan is that it puts “all the burden” on the PA to maintain “security and quiet” for Israel. “Which is turning international law on its head,” she says. “Under international law, people who are denied their freedom have the right to resist military occupation.
Despite popular and political opposition, Buttu believes the PA will press forward with the agreements because of their own financial situation. “Much of the money that comes to the PA is tied to how strong the security forces are.”
As for Abbas himself, Buttu argues he only continues to maintain the security collaboration “so that he looks relevant in the eyes of the Israelis and Americans.”
“The PA may announce that they may suspend the security collaboration – but as we saw in the last massacre on Jenin, very quickly after that they resumed. And even with the massacre in Nablus [on Wednesday] the security collaboration will continue.”
Could Fenzel backfire?
Former Palestinian politician Nabil Amr tells Jerusalem24’s sister station 24FM that following the Nablus massacre, the Fenzel plan “cannot be successful”, since any security arrangement must run parallel to a political solution. “When this factor is missing, then any security arrangement will backfire.”
“When the security arrangement is not linked to a concrete political solution where goals are in progress to be met, then you have no guarantee that some members of the security unit (to be formed) won’t join these resistance groups under the existence of the Israeli occupation,” he argues.
Buttu disagrees with Amr, saying this is rather a reflection of “Israeli fantasy”.
“I haven’t seen that show itself to be correct in history,” she asserts. “We’ve had security forces in Palestine since the mid-1990s. It’s been very rare instances where security forces have turned against the PA, very rare instances where they turned and started shooting at Israeli forces. Instead, they proceed with caution, and their hands are tied.”
Buttu believes that the Palestinians have better choices than to work with this new extreme right-wing government.
“The PA lacks the strategic vision, they lack the means, or any form of energy to look in a different direction,” she says. “I think that the bigger thing is that they could have a long time ago embraced the struggles. Like South Africa’s anti-apartheid struggle. They could’ve embraced the boycott movement but they didn’t, or a movement to ostracize Israel but they haven’t.”
Barghouti concurs. “The Israeli government will not be deterred by all this talk. The only way to deter it is by boycott movements, resistance on the ground, sanctions, and the actual suspension of security coordination.”