Behind the scenes of the secret Aqaba summit
Analysis: According to commentators in the Arab world, Kerry not only presented a detailed road map which would seat the Israeli and Palestinian leaders in front of each other, he also took care of the division of labor: Al-Sisi would pressure Netanyahu, King Abdullah would pressure Abbas, and the Saudis would support the move.
With dozens of people in on the secret of the summit that convened in Aqaba a year ago, it was clear that the matter would not remain between the walls of the white royal villa. It’s hard to keep an event of such magnitude a secret, especially as it involves so many interests, scores to settle, urges and the great frustration on the Arab side.
Haaretz correspondent Barak Ravid got the big scoop. There was no need to guess who leaked the story, there is no doubt it was former US Secretary of State John Kerry. He is the one who went home resentful.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had no interest in exposing how he managed to escape the effort to bring the parties back to the negotiating table or the tricks he played on Opposition Chairman Isaac Herzog. Jordan’s King Abdullah is dealing with a public opinion that is hostile towards Israel, so he was removed from the circle of suspects, especially as experience shows that the Jordanians only leak things that are meant to serve them. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is not on the list either, as indicated in the vague response issued by the palace in Cairo, with al-Sisi’s spokesman neither confirming nor denying.
More and more details are slowly being revealed. According to a recent report from the Arab world, a high-ranking Saudi representative showed up for the secret meeting in Aqaba as well. According to another report, Kerry intentionally decided not to invite Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, but he met with him in Amman on the morning before the summit and promised to keep him updated.
Egyptian academic Dr. Yehia Mostafa Kamel published an open letter Saturday addressed to “My dear Netanyahu,” in which he raises the urgent question troubling the Arab side: Why did you run away? You already came to the secret meeting, you summoned your opposition leader and brought him in on the secret effort to restart the negotiations, you encouraged Herzog to announce that he is “seriously examining” and “preparing” and “considering” entering your right-wing government following this move, you did not express any comprehensive objection to the ideas raised during the summit and did not present any red lines—so what happened to you, “dear Netanyahu”?
According to Dr. Kamel’s version, not only did Kerry present a detailed road map in Aqaba that would seat Netanyahu in front of Abbas, he also took care of the division of labor: Al-Sisi, thanks to his close relations with Netanyahu, would volunteer to pressure him; King Abdullah, because of Jordan’s interests, would do the same with Abbas. If there was indeed a Saudi representative there (the parties were sworn to full secrecy by King Salman’s palace), Riyadh likely promised to support the move.
This addition produces a new conspiracy theory on the Arab side: Netanyahu (according to Minister Ayoob Kara, who claims to be close to him) is plotting to establish an alternative Palestinian state between Gaza and Sinai, and he used his meeting with Donald Trump in Washington to get the American president to pressure al-Sisi—who is longing for American aid—to concede areas in Sinai. Egypt on its part, according to the same theory, will keep insisting on returning the Tiran and Sanafir islands to Saudi sovereignty in order to get the Saudis to support the plan.
Dr. Saeb Erekat, the Palestinians' representative to the negotiations, visited Cairo over the weekend in order to get an official confirmation from the Egyptian foreign minister that there was nothing of the kind—no dreams and no plans and no scheme to declare a state of Palestine behind Abbas’ back.
After they were done mocking the veil of secrecy, the Arab commentators were willing to admit that had this information fallen into their hands, they could not have afforded to publish it in Amman, Cairo or Ramallah.
“My dear Netanyahu,” Dr. Kamel concludes his letter. “Perhaps the era of secret meetings is over? Share with us—explain to us—why you talk about the two-state solution and about comprehensive peace, and the moment a decision has to be made—you fool everyone?”