Israeli, Palestinian Authority officials meet for talks in Egypt

CAIRO (Agencies): Israeli and Palestinian Authority (PA) officials are meeting in Egypt for talks amid criticism and calls for a boycott by Palestinian political parties.

The one-day meeting, which is also being attended by Egyptian, US and Jordanian officials, began on Sunday in the Egyptian resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh.

The talks come ahead of Ramadan, set to begin on Thursday, in a diplomatic effort to maintain “calm” during the Muslim holy month, when matters often escalate between Israeli forces and Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territories.

The situation on the ground has been tense for more than a year, with frequent raids and near-daily killings of Palestinians by the Israeli army, which have only spiked under the new extreme right-wing Israeli government sworn in at the end of last year.

A statement by Egypt’s foreign ministry said the talks aim “to support dialogue between the Palestinian and Israeli sides to work to stop unilateral actions and escalation, and to break the existing cycle of violence and achieve calm”.

This could “facilitate the creation of a climate suitable for the resumption of the peace process”, the statement added.

On Saturday, top PA official Hussein al-Sheikh said the Palestinian delegation will be participating in order to “defend the rights of our Palestinian people to freedom and independence”, and “[request] an end to this continuous Israeli aggression against us and to stop all measures and policies that violate our blood, land, property and sanctities”.

According to Israeli media, National Security Advisor Tzachi Hanegbi is leading the Israeli delegation, along with intelligence (Shin Bet) chief Ronen Bar and military general Ghassan Alian.

All major Palestinian political parties, except for Fatah which runs the PA, opposed the talks and called for a boycott. Hamas, the armed group that governs the besieged Gaza Strip, said it “rejects the conference in Sharm al-Sheikh”.

Spokesman Mousa Abu Marzouq said in a statement published on Friday that “European and American authorities issue statements about the crimes of the [Israeli] occupation, but do not take any measures to pressure the Israeli entity to stop its crimes”.

In a joint statement, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) political parties said the PA’s insistence on joining the Sharm al-Sheikh summit “constitutes a coup against popular will”.

They said Israel is “taking advantage of these summits and security meetings to launch more aggression against our people”.

Jordan talks

Sunday’s talks follow a US-brokered summit in Jordan last month involving the PA and Israeli officials – the first of its kind in years. That meeting was also met with widespread opposition and failed to restrict the Israeli occupation’s escalating oppressive measures against Palestinians.

While the closing statement of the Aqaba Summit in Jordan claimed Israel agreed to halt announcing new illegal settlements for several months, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denied any such commitments being made barely hours after the end of the meeting.

“Contrary to reports and tweets about the meeting in Jordan, there is no change in Israeli policy,” Israeli National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi said at the time.

Israel has built hundreds of illegal settlements and outposts, home to about 700,000 Israeli settlers, across the occupied West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, blocking the possibility of an independent Palestinian state on those territories, which Israel has militarily occupied in 1967.

Israeli forces and settlers have killed 89 Palestinians, including 18 children and one woman, this year, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health.