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The post-summit violence made Netanyahu’s balance more difficult


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The US-brokered summit with pledges to calm violence and slow Israeli settlement in the occupied West Bank had barely ended when Jewish settlers set Palestinian homes on fire in response to a Palestinian armed ambush.

Hopes of a calming effect for the meeting, hosted by Jordan in the Red Sea port of Aqaba and attended by high-ranking Israeli and Palestinian security officials, were dashed when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu disavowed any idea of ​​halting settlement building.

“The Aqaba Agreement was stillborn,” said a headline in the largest Palestinian daily, Al-Quds, after footage on social media showed young settlers praying as they watched fires near the Palestinian village of Hawara, just hours after the arrival of two brothers from a nearby settlement. They were shot dead in their car there.

Emergency services said another suspected Palestinian shooting attack in the West Bank on Monday seriously injured one person.

The events have cast doubt on Netanyahu’s ability to walk a diplomatic tightrope between Washington – to push for a lasting compromise – and his government of hardline settlers demanding tough action against Palestinian attacks.

Less than a month ago, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was in Jerusalem to reaffirm US support for a two-state solution: independence for Palestinians in East Jerusalem, Gaza and the West Bank, which they say would conflict with Israeli settlements.

If Netanyahu now lets the violence spiral out of control, it will be another, larger source of friction with the White House, said Amotz Asa El, a researcher at the Shalom Hartman Institute think tank.

“If anything like last night resumes and gives Washington reason to suspect that Netanyahu is powerless to deal with, they will talk to him very clearly,” Asa El said, adding that the White House has put pressure on Israeli leaders before.

“It is in his interest now to show that he is cracking down on this kind of settler violence.”

The US State Department spokesman condemned the killing of two Israelis and the settler attack, in which one Palestinian was killed and more than 100 wounded. The spokesman stressed “the need for immediate de-escalation of tensions through words and deeds.”

But shortly after a joint US State Department statement said Israel had committed to halt approval of new settlement units for four months, Netanyahu said settlement construction would continue as planned.

“No and there will be no freeze,” he wrote on Twitter, in an apparent reference to his hardline associates.

pro-settlement parties

Palestinians, unnerved since the Israeli elections on November 1, when Netanyahu began forming his coalition government with the Jewish Power and Religious Zionist, pro-settler ultra-nationalists, are looking to Washington to rein them in.

“The American administration, which is sponsoring this government, must put an end to all these crimes,” said a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Itamar Ben Gvir, the national security minister who heads the Jewish Power party, held a private meeting of the platoon at an outpost slated to be evacuated because it was built without any government permit.

Palestinian political analyst George Giacaman predicted more violence. “The main battle will be with the settlers,” he said.

For the Aqaba agreements to be effective, they will need a follow-up, said Daniel Shapiro, a former US envoy to Israel and now a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council think tank. He said Sunday’s events showed there was “a risk that the pace of deterioration will outpace diplomatic efforts to reverse it.”

However, Netanyahu’s maneuvering room appears to be shrinking – Ben Gvir is already issuing political threats, while religious Zionist leader and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich last week consolidated his civil powers in the West Bank.

So much so, that with Netanyahu’s new coalition only eight weeks old, Israeli political commentators are already wondering if the veteran politician can hold his own.

“One can look at the Aqaba summit as an example: the Americans announced that Israel promised a settlement construction freeze, which Netanyahu then denies. And at those very moments, the ministers of Jewish power and religious Zionism attacked the summit and said it was non-binding,” Moran Azoulay wrote, From the Israeli news website Ynet.

“On the eve of the elections, Netanyahu was thinking about the legacy he will have when he is re-elected prime minister. Right now it looks like chaos and disintegration.”

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