By: Prof. Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh.
In the Aqaba Conference, held in Jordan on 26/2/2023, Jordan, Egypt, US, the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Israel, have attempted to overcome several impasses: Israel’s dilemma regarding the resistance and its escalation in the West Bank (WB), and the possibilities of escalation and war in the coming month of Ramadan; the crisis of the PA, whose value and status have deteriorated among Palestinians, and according to US and Israel assessments its functional performance have also deteriorated; and the impasse of the normalization and peace processes, which usually stall and lose their justification of existence, with the escalation of Israeli oppression and resistance action.
The Aqaba Joint Communique stated that the Palestinian and Israeli sides have affirmed their commitment to all previous agreements, reaffirmed the necessity of committing to “de-escalation” on the ground, while the five parties recognized “the importance of upholding unchanged the historic status quo at the holy sites in Jerusalem,” and “emphasized in this regard the Hashemite Custodianship.” The communique expressed the “Israeli commitment to stop discussion of any new settlement units for 4 months and to stop authorization of any outposts for 6 months.” The five parties agreed to convene again in Egypt in March 2023 to make sure the goals listed in the Communique were achieved.
One wonders, what are the prospects and expectations after the Aqaba Conference?!!
First: The Continuation of the PA’s Security Role:
It is clear that the PA leadership in Ramallah is not serious about changing its role, which Israel made it limited to running the daily life of the Palestinians and suppressing and chasing the resistance; i.e., the PA will continue serving Israel so as to enjoy an Israeli “five-star” occupation of WB. The conference has provided the PA with some support and conditional backing so that it can continue its function, particularly after its erosion and after losing the justification of its existence in the eyes of most Palestinians.
If the leaks about the “Fenzel Plan” to suppress the resistance in WB were true, which was mentioned to have been also discussed at the Aqaba meeting; this means that PA, with all its will, is involved up to its ears in security coordination, and is ready to go the extra mile in suppressing the resistance. The proposed measures by Lieutenant General Michael Fenzel, the US Security Coordinator for Israel and the PA, refer to strengthening security coordination through US participation, and to the training of five thousand PA security personnel in Jordan, under US supervision. At the end of the training program, these forces will be deployed to eradicate the resistance action, especially in northern WB and under US supervision, while the Israel forces would reduce their numbers, if there are reassurances that the Palestinian side would play the required role. The plan states also that the PA would change its “lenient” approach with resistance members, dealing with them more decisively and firmly.
Therefore, the resistance forces and Palestinian movements and their symbols should neither bet on nor expect any change in the PA’s future political and security behavior, because this behavior is a US and Israeli prerequisite for its very existence.
Second: The Resistance Continues:
For nearly two years, resistance action has been on the rise, and the escalation factors are still strong and effective. Those who believe in the feasibility of armed resistance are increasing, and so are those who reject the peace process and the Oslo Accords, and those who are frustrated with the PA, its leaders and symbols. Furthermore, Israel’s tendency towards more religious and national extremism, and the expansion of Judaization and settlement building, fuel the resistance action more. Also, the active participation of youth and having individual initiatives boost the resistance action, and increase the difficulty, for Israel and the PA, of dealing in advance with it. It is noted here that even after the Israeli repression campaigns in Jerusalem, Jenin, Nablus, Jericho and Hawara, the strong and effective resistance operations have continued, thus offering an important indication that the Palestinian determination to resist will not wane.
There is no doubt that the challenge of continuing the resistance is not easy, and that the Palestinian people are suffering from very harsh conditions under the occupation, however, it is likely that the resistance will continue, albeit it would ebb and flow, but would not stop.
Third: A Deliberate Israeli Escalation:
Under the most extreme government in the history of Israel, attempts to increase the pace of settlement expansion, oppression, Judaization and assault on holy sites, will continue to the maximum extent possible. However, at the same time, this government will try to avoid as much as possible the war with Gaza Strip (GS), and the outbreak of an Intifadah in WB. Perhaps this is one of the fundamental reasons for convening the Aqaba Conference, i.e., to curb and absorb the possible reactions to Israel’s extreme actions on the ground.
Therefore, the continuation of effective resistance action will make this Israeli scheme fail, and force the Israelis to lower their expectations again. It will also contribute to the aggravation of the Israeli internal conditions, where many sectors believe that this government’s policy will have harmful adverse effects on the occupation and the Israeli society itself.
Fourth: Pursuing the Illusions of Peace Process and Normalization Paths:
The Aqaba meeting was an important “dose” to advance the peace process and normalization paths. For the increase of Israeli oppression, settlement building and Judaization measures, as well as the escalation of resistance action, make these paths lose the justification of their existence, and impede the ability of normalizing regimes to promote their relations with Israel. At a time, the Arab, Islamic, and even international popular interaction with the resistance is increasing. They also make the US and the West lose their ability to promote the “illusions” of the peace process and the two-state solution, and the so-called “advantages of normalization and peace.”
The participants of the Aqaba Conference have an urgent need to make people feel that the peace process still exists on the ground, and promote such claims widely, otherwise the only interpretation of inactivity and emptiness is the collapse of the peace process. Consequently, all forms of resistance would emerge as the only option for the Palestinian people and the Ummah (Muslim and Arab nation), to remove the occupation.
That’s why the communique expressed the commitment to stop discussion of any new settlement units for 4 months and stop authorization of any outposts for 6 months, so as to promote it as a Palestinian achievement and an Israeli concession. Nonetheless, Netanyahu, Smotrich and Ben Gvir denied agreeing to any settlement freeze, thus spoiling the chance of promoting such gains, even for a few days.
Accordingly, the attempt of these parties to revive and promote the peace process and normalization paths; the attempts to impede resistance action; and the Israelis’ attempts to close the Palestinian file, unilaterally, will continue.
Finally, as many conferences before have failed, the Aqaba Conference will also fail in taming the Palestinian people, promoting the occupation and the peace process, and reviving the PA. The chain of events will lead to the takeover of the leadership of the Palestinian people by the resistance.
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