When Israeli newspaper Haaretz revealed last Sunday the news about a secret meeting that took place on 21 February 2016 between Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, Jordanian King Abdullah II, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and former US Secretary of State John Kerry, it gave an idea of how much willingness there is by the regimes in Cairo and in Amman to make concessions and to lower Arab demands and adapt them to meet the demands of the Zionists in order to please and satisfy their arrogance.
At the same time, the meeting represented the first opportunity to get to practically know the nature and objectives of the "regional settlement" of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, promoted by Netanyahu and the US administration, and to discuss the motives of Aqaba meeting, its implications, consequences and repercussions.
Employing Arab leverages
Journalist Park Refid, who exposed the Aqaba meeting, said that the US administration is the one who took the initiative to convene this meeting, to test the seriousness of the promise made by Netanyahu to former US President Barack Obama in late 2015 about his willingness to reach a solution to the conflict with the Palestinian people in the context of a regional settlement.
According to Netanyahu's logic, Arab states can have an active role in reaching a political settlement to the conflict, claiming that Palestinian representatives are not ready for a settlement, and that there is a need to employ some leverage by Arab states and use it against the Palestinians to force them to show more flexibility.
The Americans responded to Netanyahu's request and asked the regimes in Amman and Cairo to arrange a "summit" with Netanyahu, and with the participation of Kerry. This would allow the meeting to provide the regional dimension sought by the Israeli prime minister, and constitute at the same time a justification for exercising Arab pressure on the Palestinians to accept what Kerry will present.
The Aqaba meeting, according to the testimony of Kerry's assistants, as documented by Haaretz, came after Netanyahu thwarted intense efforts made by Kerry in 2015 to resume negotiations with the Palestinian Authority.
The problem is that the initiative put forward by Kerry during the Aqaba meeting – after obtaining the approval of Al-Sisi and King Abdullah – which was refused by Netanyahu on the spot, not only represents a serious setback to the "Arab Peace Initiative" endorsed by the Arab summit in Beirut in 2002, but in reality represents a real end to the Palestinian cause.
Although the initiative was based on the "two-state solution" on the basis of the 1967 borders, it practically included items that can turn the idea of a Palestinian state into a distorted version of autonomy.
The most dangerous thing that was proposed by Kerry – accepted by Al-Sisi and Abdullah – was the acceptance of the Arab world of any settlement that meets Israel's security needs and guarantees its ability to defend itself. When interpreting this item, based on Israeli criteria, it would mean a Palestinian willingness to give up areas of land in the West Bank which Tel Aviv believes is necessary for its security needs.
Hence, all the parties participating in the ruling coalition in Tel Aviv and the opposition forces – which represent Israel's centrists – oppose withdrawal from the Jordan Valley, which constitutes about 28 per cent of the West Bank, arguing that retaining this region reduces the ability of any party to surprise Israel through launching an attack from the east.
At the same time, the fact that the initiative calls for "security arrangements" that improve Israel's ability to defend itself means that Arabs accept a Palestinian state without sovereignty over its borders, as to guarantee Israel's right to defend itself requires controlling the borders with Jordan. If we take into account that the initiative allows Israel to retain the biggest settlement blocs – which extend over 12 per cent of the area of the West Bank – then this practically means a Palestinian concession for 40 per cent of the West Bank area.
It is true that the initiative speaks of Israel's annexation of the settlement clusters within a land swap formula under which Israel gives up land to be annexed to the Palestinian state. But the land that the Netanyahu government is willing to give up is the "Triangle" area, in order to get rid of as much of the demographic weight of the Palestinians inside as possible. This represents a rationed deportation and violations against this Palestinian group through equating them with settlers who stole the land.
Things do not stop at this point, but Kerry informed Netanyahu about the consent of the Arabs to "recognise Israel as a Jewish state and ensuring the preservation of its basic character." There is no dispute that recognising the Jewishness of Israel means a voluntarily and advance waiver for the right of Palestinian refugees to return to lands which they were expelled from in 1948.
According to Israeli logic, recognition of the Jewishness of Israel gives legitimacy to whatever it takes to preserve the Jewish character and on top of this the demographic composition. Hence, there is no Palestinian party – regardless of its political orientation – that is willing to recognise the Jewishness of Israel, because of the seriousness of the potential energy in this recognition.
Israel goes beyond concessions of Aqaba
What Kerry proposed has become history, because facts on the ground established by Israel after the meeting torpedoed any chance of putting Kerry's humble proposal into practice.
For example, Kerry's initiative called for the launch of a Palestinian state on a territory that is geographically connected. But what Israel did recently practically undermines this point, where the government approved the "E1" settlement project which connects the city of Jerusalem to the Ma'aleh Adumim settlement in the northeast of the holy city. Knowing that the road connecting the northern parts of West Bank to its southern parts passes through the buffer zone between the settlement and Jerusalem, then launching project "E1" eliminates any possibility to establish a "state that is geographically connected."
The irony is that despite Netanyahu's rejection of Arab concessions made at the Aqaba meeting a year ago, he continues to express enthusiasm for the idea of "regional settlement," and hints to Arab readiness to provide the conditions that Israel can live with. Netanyahu's optimism of the possible realisation of regional settlement has grown after President Donald Trump became president of the United States.
The question that arises here is: has Netanyahu, through other similar secret meetings, got more concessions that make him optimistic about a regional settlement that meets the demands of the far-right coalition led by him that is governing Israel?
Asking this question is of great importance in the wake of what Druze Israeli minister Ayoub Kara revealed, in that Al-Sisi had proposed a plan to establish a Palestinian state in the Sinai and the Gaza Strip which allows Israel to have sole control of the West Bank.
Despite denials by the Al-Sisi regime and by Netanyahu, the continuous talk about regional settlement pushes people to believe that Kara has set a test to detect the nature of the responses to such idea.
Significance of Egyptian and Jordanian silence
Although the Aqaba meeting did not mention the idea of a Palestinian state in the Sinai, it can be assumed that other secret meetings that brought Netanyahu and Al-Sisi together may have broached the topic, as the Israeli media pointed out that Al-Sisi put this idea forward by late 2014.
What gives credibility to these doubts is the fact that the newspaper Maariv claimed on 31 May 2016 that Al-Sisi calls Netanyahu by telephone twice a week. It is obvious, if what Maariv said is true, that the pace of intensive communications between Al-Sisi and Netanyahu allows for addressing a lot of issues, including the future of the settlement.
What is provocative and bitter is that at a time when criticism poured on Netanyahu in Israel because he wasted an opportunity to reach an unbelievable settlement for the conflict, accusing him of prolonging the conflict for no reason, Al-Sisi and King Abdullah, who were eyewitnesses to Netanyahu's arrogance, are keeping silent.
The absence of a coherent narrative by the Jordanian king and Al-Sisi about what happened in the Aqaba conference represents, on one hand, a direct contribution to Zionist propaganda efforts through allowing Netanyahu to continue to talk about "regional settlement."
On the other hand, this silence lends credibility to fears that there is an Arab willingness to make further concessions. It is clear that until Al-Sisi and King Abdullah offer a credible narrative for what happened at the Aqaba meeting, that no one in the Arab world and the whole world will be fooled by the theatrical play of "regional settlement" promoted by Netanyahu.
In short, regardless of what took place in Aqaba, and what could have happened and is happening in other secret meetings that were held or can be held in the future, the Palestinians, supported by other Arabs and especially the Egyptians, cannot allow the liquidation of their cause through patterns of collusion some of which were uncovered in at Aqaba.
Translated from Aljazeera.net, 21 February, 2017
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.