Palestinian President and Israeli Defense Minister have rare talks | Israeli-Palestinian conflict News
Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz met Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas in the occupied West Bank at the first high-level meeting between the two sides in 10 years, the first since Prime Minister Naftali Bennett took office in June.
Gantz traveled to Ramallah, West Bank, for “security, civil and economic talks” with the 85-year-old Palestinian leader, officials said on Monday.
They came hours after Israeli leader Bennett returned from Washington, DC where he met US President Joe Biden at the White House.
“Defense Minister Benny Gantz met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas [Sunday] evening to discuss security policy, civil and economic issues, ”Israel’s Defense Ministry said in a statement.
Gantz, the leader of a centrist party in the Israeli government coalition, told Abbas “that Israel seeks to take measures that will strengthen the economy of the Palestinian Authority. They also discussed the evolution of the security and economic situation in the West Bank and Gaza, ”he added.
“They agreed to continue to communicate more. “
The meeting included the head of the Israeli military wing responsible for civil affairs in the Palestinian territories, Ghasan Alyan, senior PA official Hussein al-Sheikh and Palestinian intelligence chief Majid Faraj.
Al-Sheikh confirmed the meeting on Twitter, while Gantz’s office said the defense minister and Abbas held a “one-on-one meeting” after the broader talks.
– الشيخ Hussein Al Sheikh (@HusseinSheikhpl) August 29, 2021
A Palestinian official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Gantz and Abbas discussed possible measures to improve relations – including Palestinian demands for a halt to Israeli military operations in the occupied West Bank, allowing unification. families with relatives inside Israel, and allowing more Palestinian workers in Israel.
“Maintain the status quo”
Bennett is a die-hard nationalist who opposes the creation of a Palestinian state and previously headed a powerful settler lobbying council.
Natasha Ghoneim of Al Jazeera, reporting from West Jerusalem, said the talks marked a shift in engagement, but noted it was “very doubtful” that they were a step towards relaunching the peace process dying.
“New Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is a nationalist and has said he opposes a Palestinian state, so we cannot expect peace process negotiations to be on his agenda… which is really remarkable here is the maintenance of the status quo.
Bennett on Monday sought to downplay any idea of a move towards renewed peace negotiations. Israeli media quoted “a source close to the prime minister” as saying: “There is no diplomatic process with the Palestinians, and neither will there be. “
In a sign of friction over the Palestinian state within Bennett’s fragile coalition, Mossi Raz, a lawmaker from the left-wing Meretz party, said the rejection of prospects for resuming peace talks was “outrageous.”
“A peace process is an Israeli interest,” Raz wrote on Twitter.
After his visit to the United States, a White House statement said Biden reiterated to Bennett his support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and “stressed the importance of measures to improve the lives of Palestinians. “.
Relations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, based in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, have deteriorated dramatically in recent years.
Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in power from 2009 to 2021, has been derided by the Palestinians.
He made no substantial effort to achieve lasting peace while overseeing a constant expansion of illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem. Colonies and outposts are considered illegal under international law.
Netanyahu was backed by former US President Donald Trump who endorsed pro-Israel policies such as moving the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Abbas cut off most contact with the United States and Israel during those years.
He also signed several normalization agreements and initiated diplomatic relations with Arab states, including the United Arab Emirates, Sudan, Morocco and Bahrain – measures decried by the Palestinian leadership as a “treacherous stab at the Palestinian cause.” “.
Bennett’s office has made it clear on several occasions that Israel’s ideologically disparate coalition, which includes leftist politicians and hawks, has no plans to initiate a new round of peace talks.
But senior Israeli officials have indicated their desire to strengthen the Palestinian Authority amid concerns over a new conflict with Hamas, the group that rules the Gaza Strip, a Palestinian enclave blocked by Israel and separated from the West Bank.
An 11-day Israeli offensive on Gaza in May killed 265 people in Gaza. In Israel, 13 people have died. The clashes continued despite an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire.
Abbas’s Palestinian Authority has also come under mounting global criticism over a crackdown on key rights following the death in Palestinian custody of a prominent activist.
Last week, the United Nations and the European Union expressed concern over a series of arrests targeting key critics of Abbas and the Palestinian Authority.
The Palestinian Authority is widely seen as corrupt and authoritarian. A recent June poll showing support for Abbas, who took power for what was supposed to be a four-year term in 2005, has crumbled.
Many also criticized the PA’s close security coordination with Israel, seen by many Palestinians as treason.