In the first official high-level meeting between the sides in years, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz and P.A. leader Mahmoud Abbas reportedly discussed “security policy, civilian and economic issues.”
Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz met with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on Sunday evening, in the first official high-level talks between Israeli and Palestinian leaders since 2010.
Gantz told Abbas that “Israel seeks to take measures that will strengthen the P.A.’s economy,” according to a Defense Ministry statement.
The two also discussed “security policy, civilian and economic issues,” and agreed to continue communicating on the issues raised during the meeting.
Also attending the meeting were the head of Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, IDF Maj. Gen. Ghasan Alyan, the head of the P.A.’s General Authority of Civil Affairs, Hussein al-Sheikh, and the head of the Palestinian Intelligence Service Majid Faraj.
At the end of the larger discussion, Gantz and Abbas held a one-on-one meeting.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett gave the green light for the meeting, but a senior aide was quick to stress that it doesn’t represent a return to the negotiating table, Maariv reported.
The Biden administration’s point-man on Israel-Palestinian relations, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Israeli-Palestinian affairs Hady Amr, urged Israel to help the P.A. financially during a visit to the region in July.
“I have never seen the Palestinian Authority in a worse situation,” he told Israeli officials after visiting Ramallah, according to news site Axios. “It is like a dry forest waiting to catch on fire,” he warned.
The Palestinian economy is in crisis, partly due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and partly due to sharp cuts in international financial aid.
The Gantz-Abbas meeting irks Israeli right and Hamas alike
Right-wing Israeli officials and Gaza’s Hamas rulers alike expressed outrage over the meeting.
Religious Zionist Party leader Bezalel Smotrich slammed Gantz for “meeting with a man who denies the Holocaust, who pays salaries to terrorists and is suing him and the State of Israel in The Hague.”
Smotrich warned that “Israeli society does not understand the potential damage this event can inflict on the diplomatic level.”
Itamar Ben-Gvir, leader of the far-right Otzma Yehudit Party, called the meeting “a disgrace.”
Hamas spokesman Abdel Latif al-Qanua said, “Abbas’s meeting with the criminal Zionist minister of war Gantz is a stab in the back of our people and a betrayal of the blood of the shahids [martyrs]. Abbas continues the series of concessions with regard to the [Palestinian] national existence and tries to beautify the face of the occupation.”
Senior Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri issued a similar statement, saying, “Mahmoud Abbas’s meeting with the minister of the occupation’s army is dangerous and reflects the P.A.’s contempt for Palestinian blood, and the escalation of its security cooperation with the occupation.”
The Israeli left welcomed the news of the meeting, with Deputy Economy Minister Yair Golan of the Meretz Party saying, “The defense minister’s meeting with the head of the Palestinian Authority is an encouraging sign and another expression of the positive change that the new government brings with it. The complexity of the conflict must be resolved through dialogue—this is the right, Zionist act.”