Israel Defense Minister Meets PA President Abbas for First Talks in a Decade

The Associated Press
The Associated Press

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz met in Ramallah on Sunday, in the first face-to-face talks in over a decade.

The meeting took place hours after Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett returned from Washington, DC, where he met with President Joe Biden.

“This evening I met with PA [President] Mahmoud Abbas to discuss security-policy, civilian and economic issues,” Gantz tweeted after the late-night exchange.

He added Israel was ready to strengthen the Palestinian economy.

Senior Palestinian Authority official Hussein al-Sheikh also tweeted the two had discussed “all aspects of Palestinian-Israeli relations.”

The last high-level face-to-face talks between Israeli and Palestinian leaders were in 2010, according to the Times of Israel. 

While Bennett has vowed to bolster the Palestinian government as well as its economy, he has nixed the idea of establishing a Palestinian state.

He told the New York Times in an interview last week Israel wasn’t interested in peace talks with the Palestinians so long as they have a “fractured and rudderless” government.

“This government will neither annex nor form a Palestinian state, everyone gets that,” he said. “I’m prime minister of all Israelis, and what I’m doing now is finding the middle ground — how we can focus on what we agree upon.”

An official in the Prime Minister’s Office doubled down on Monday, saying the Gantz-Abbas meeting dealt mainly with security issues.

“There is no diplomatic process with the Palestinians nor will there be,” the official said.

Lawmaker MK Mossi Raz, whose leftwing Meretz party sits in Bennett’s motley coalition, called the official’s statement “outrageous.”

“Why not have a diplomatic process? A diplomatic process is in Israel’s interest,” he tweeted.

Biden told Bennett last week that he hoped Israel would realize “the importance of steps to improve the lives of Palestinians and support greater economic opportunities for them.”

He further called on both sides to understand “the importance of refraining from actions that could exacerbate tensions, contribute to a sense of unfairness, and undermine efforts to build trust,” a readout from the White House said.

In July, the Israeli government approved the confiscation of 600 million NIS ($186 million) from Palestinian tax revenues in accordance with an Israeli law that penalizes the PA for its so-called pay-to-slay program. The sum is equal to the amount paid out in 2020 to convicted terrorists and their families.

However, the Times of Israel reported that Israel and the PA have been holding talks for a financial aid plan that may see hundreds of millions funneled into Ramallah’s ailing economy.

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