Israel offers Abbas a series of goodwill gestures at a rare meeting in Ramallah



Israel will make a series of goodwill gestures to the Palestinian Authority following a meeting between Defense Minister Benny Gantz and PA President Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday evening, Gantz announced on Monday.

Among the economic gestures that Gantz proposed to Abbas at the night meeting was a loan of half a billion shekels. The two men also talked about ways to regulate the status of the thousands of undocumented Palestinians in the West Bank; and ways to simplify digital VAT accounting for all Palestinian businesses shopping in Israel.

Gantz met with Abbas hours after the prime minister Naftali Bennett returned from Washington. Abbas had a personal meeting with a senior Israeli official for the first time in ten years.

“Neither we nor the Palestinians are going anywhere tomorrow morning,” and steps need to be taken to build confidence between Israelis and Palestinians, Gantz said in a press briefing Monday afternoon.

Gantz’s meeting comes at a time when the PA is facing a deep financial crisis and political unrest, with Abbas yielding to Hamas. There is also talk of violence in the West Bank, and Palestinians in Gaza have renewed their violent border riots.

“I came to the meeting to build confidence and protect the interests of the State of Israel, as well as to strengthen our important ties with the Palestinian Authority,” he said, explaining that the stronger the PA, the weaker Hamas will be. The West Bank and that Israel will have to act less there.

“We also discussed shaping the security and economic situation in the West Bank and Gaza,” Gantz said. “We agreed to continue discussing the issues that were raised during the meeting.”

Bennett insisted that he had no plans to keep peace negotiations with the Palestinians, and the two men did not exchange the usual words when Bennett took office. Bennett does not support the two-state solution, but said he would not try to annex parts of Judea and Samaria as head of government, which spans different parts of the Israeli political spectrum.

A source close to Bennett clarified that the prime minister had agreed to the meeting in advance.

“This is a meeting where common day-to-day issues were discussed between the security agencies and the Palestinian Authority,” the source said. “There is no diplomatic process with the Palestinians and there will never be.”

Bennett supports steps to improve the quality of life of Palestinians and stabilize Palestinian power, which he believes are beneficial to Israel’s security. The topic was among those he discussed last week with US President Joe Biden and senior administration officials.

A senior diplomatic source said economic issues were the focus of the Gantz Abbas meeting.

Gantz believes a high-level face-to-face meeting will be a way to move the proposals forward, the source said, but the source is skeptical that Abbas was the key to concrete progress or that much could be gained from the meeting.

The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, Major General Hasan Allian, as well as Palestinian Minister Hussein al-Sheikh and the head of the Palestinian intelligence service, Majid Faraj, also attended part of the meeting between Gantz and Abbas in Ramallah on Sunday evening. Gantz and Abbas also met in private.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz and IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi at an operational briefing at IDF Southern Command, June 8, 2021 (Photo: ARIEL HERMONI / MINISTRY OF DEFENSE)Defense Minister Benny Gantz and IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi at an operational briefing at IDF Southern Command, June 8, 2021 (Photo: ARIEL HERMONI / DEFENSE)

In July, Gantz called Abbas to convey his good wishes for Eid al-Adha, and President Isaac Herzog has also spoken to Abbas in recent months.

Direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority were interrupted in 2014 and have not been resumed. These rounds of talks brokered by former US Secretary of State John Kerry did not include meetings with Abbas. The Palestinian leader has met with former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu only twice: once in Washington in 2010 and once on the sidelines of the General Assembly in 2009. From time to time they spoke on the phone, with the last such conversation taking place in 2017.

The Palestinian leader also traveled to Jerusalem for the funeral of former President Shimon Peres and spoke informally with former President Reuven Rivlin and Netanyahu.

Perez himself also met with Abbas at the Vatican in 2014 at a vigil for peace with Pope Francis.

Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.


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