Israel committed to pausing the authorisation of settler outposts in the occupied West Bank after meeting with Palestinian representatives saw both sides agree to de-escalate tensions following a period of heightened violence.

Representatives of both sides met in Jordan on Sunday, in a bid to end the recent cycle of bloodshed – which saw dozens killed – ahead of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in March.

In a joint statement, Israel agreed to temporarily halt approvals of settlement building projects in the West Bank for four to six months, as both delegations said they would work closely to prevent “further violence” and “reaffirmed the necessity of committing to de-escalation on the ground”.

The representatives agreed to work towards a “just and lasting peace” and to meet again next month in Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, chairs a weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem, on January 15, 2023. Menahem Kahana/Pool via REUTERS
Benjamin Netanyahu, head of Israel’s right-wing government (Photo: Menahem Kahana/Reuters)

The meeting was the first of its kind in years and aimed to restore calm in Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

It comes after a Palestinian gunman opened fire at an Israeli car in the West Bank on Sunday, killing two Israelis.

Days before, Israeli military executed a raid in a nearby Palestinian city, killing 10 people, most of them militants. Two men over 60 were killed in the raid, while a 66-year-old man also died from tear gas inhalation.

It was one of the deadliest incidents in the West Bank in years.

In the wake of that shooting, Israel approved construction of more than 7,000 new homes in West Bank settlements. It was unclear whether that order was affected by the freeze announced by Jordan.

Israel said the prime minister’s national security adviser as well as the chief of the Shin Bet domestic security agency attended the talks in neighbouring Jordan.

The head of the Palestinian intelligence services, as well as advisers to President Mahmoud Abbas, also joined.

The presence of top officials at the meeting, as well as delegations from Egypt, Jordan and the US, underscored the severity of the crisis.

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Palestinians who oppose any official engagement with Israel said they would protest the meeting.

Militant group Hamas criticized the meeting, calling Sunday’s shooting “a natural reaction” to Israeli incursions into Palestinian areas of the West Bank and resulting deaths.

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

Bezalel Smotrich, Israel’s far-right finance minister, who also has responsibilities over Jewish settlements in the West Bank, said he would not agree to any freeze in settlement activity, despite the deal.

“I have no idea what they spoke about or not in Jordan,” he tweeted.

“But one thing I do know: there will not be a freeze on the building and development in settlements, not even for one day – it is under my authority.”

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Violence between Israelis and Palestinians has surged since Israel stepped up raids across the West Bank following a spate of Palestinian attacks last spring.

The bloodshed has spiked 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 against Israelis have killed 13 people in 2023.

Israel says the raids are meant to dismantle militant networks and thwart future attacks.

The Palestinians say Israel is further entrenching its 55-year open-ended occupation of lands they want for a future state, as well as undermine their own security forces.

Ramadan this year coincides with the weeklong Jewish holiday of Passover and worshippers from both faiths are expected to flock to the holy sites in Jerusalem’s Old City, which are often a flashpoint for violence between the sides.

Clashes erupted at a key Jerusalem holy site 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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