Israelis and Palestinians meet for talks on how to de-escalate recent wave of attacks

JERUSALEM — The Jordanian government announced on Sunday that Israel and the Palestinians had agreed to ease tensions shortly after a Palestinian gunman killed two Israelis in a shootout in the occupied West Bank.

Sunday’s shooting marked the latest violence in a spate of fighting that has killed dozens of Israelis and Palestinians over the past year. Jordan invited the sides with the aim of defusing tensions ahead of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

A statement from Jordan’s Foreign Ministry said that Israeli and Palestinian officials agreed to work towards a “just and lasting peace” and reiterated the need to “commit to de-escalation on the ground.”

It said they had agreed to preserve the status quo at a disputed holy site in Jerusalem and Israel had agreed to suspend new settlement permits in the occupied West Bank for four to six months. It also said both sides agreed to support “confidence-building steps” and meet again in Egypt next month.

The declaration marked a small sign of progress, but many questions remained unanswered. While negotiators were meeting, a Palestinian gunman killed two Israeli brothers in the northern West Bank.

The army searched for the attacker, and Israel’s defense minister called for the military presence in the West Bank to be increased.

An Israeli ministerial committee also approved a proposal that would impose the death penalty on Palestinian militants involved in deadly attacks. The measure was sent to lawmakers for further debate.

“On a difficult day when two Israelis were murdered in a Palestinian terrorist attack, there is nothing more symbolic than passing the death penalty law for terrorists,” said Itamar Ben Gvir, Israel’s far-right national security minister and West Bank settler.

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Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, another settler leader, called for “a merciless attack with tanks and helicopters on the cities of terror and their instigators in a manner that conveys the master of the house gone mad.”

Sunday’s shooting came days after an Israeli military attack in the nearby Palestinian city of Nablus killed 10 Palestinians, most of them militants. But two men in their 60s were also killed in the raid, and a 66-year-old man also died from tear gas inhalation. It was one of the deadliest incidents in the West Bank in years.

After that shooting, Israel approved the construction of over 7,000 new homes in West Bank settlements. It was not clear if this order was affected by the freeze announced by Jordan.

Israel said the prime minister’s national security adviser and the head of the state security agency, the Shin Bet, attended the talks in neighboring Jordan. The head of the Palestinian secret service and advisers to President Mahmoud Abbas also joined.

The presence of senior officials at the meeting, as well as delegations from Egypt, Jordan and the United States underscored the seriousness of the crisis. It was also a rare high-level meeting between the sides, coming at a time of rising tensions and after the Palestinians broke off security coordination with Israel over the violence.

Israeli soldiers take position at the scene of a Palestinian shooting attack at the Hawara checkpoint near the West Bank city of Nablus on Sunday.
Israeli soldiers take position at the scene of a Palestinian shooting attack at the Hawara checkpoint near the West Bank city of Nablus on Sunday.

Abbas’ office said the Palestinians “stress the need to stop all unilateral Israeli actions.” An Israeli official said the meeting was intended to ease tensions ahead of Ramadan and came at an American request.

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The Palestinian participants in the meeting were confirmed by a Palestinian official. A Jordanian official also said the meeting was intended to stop “Israeli unilateral actions,” build trust, and lead to broader contacts between the sides. He said the meeting will be held in the Red Sea resort town of Aqaba in Jordan.

All three officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to discuss the meeting with the media.

Palestinians, who oppose any official engagement with Israel, said they would protest the meeting, while Hamas criticized the meeting. It called Sunday’s shooting “a natural response” to Israeli incursions into Palestinian territories in the West Bank and the resulting deaths.

“The resistance in the West Bank will remain and grow, and no plan or summit will be able to stop it,” spokesman Hazem Qassem said.

Israel has pledged to continue fighting militants in the West Bank, where the Palestinian Authority often has little control. Israel is also led by a far-right government with members who oppose concessions to the Palestinians and favor building settlements on occupied land that the Palestinians aspire to as a future state.

Violence between Israelis and Palestinians has increased since Israel stepped up crackdowns in the West Bank following a spate of Palestinian attacks last spring. The bloodshed has escalated this year, with more than 60 Palestinians killed in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, according to a tally by The Associated Press. Palestinian attacks on Israelis have killed 13 people in 2023.

Israel says the raids are designed to dismantle militant networks and thwart future attacks. The Palestinians say Israel is continuing its 55-year indefinite occupation of lands they want for a future state and undermining their own security forces.

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Ramadan coincides with the week-long Jewish holiday of Passover this year, and believers of both faiths are expected to flock to holy sites in Jerusalem’s Old City, which are often a flashpoint for violence between the sides. Clashes erupted at a key holy site in Jerusalem last year, and tensions at the site helped spark an 11-day war with Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip in 2021.

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