In a big step in Palestinian-Israeli relations, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas met with Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz at his home in Rosh HaAyin on Tuesday night – the second such meeting since Israel’s new government was sworn in and, before that, in almost a decade.
Not only was it a rare meeting, it was a rare trip for Abbas into Israel.
“This evening I met with PA President, Mahmoud Abbas. We discussed the implementation of economic and civilian measures, and emphasized the importance of deepening security coordination and preventing terror and violence – for the well-being of both Israelis and Palestinians,” Gantz said on Twitter.
After the meeting, Gantz announced a series of gestures that Israel will offer to Palestinians including a $32.2-million loan on tax revenues that Israel collects for Ramallah, legalizing the status of 9,500 undocumented Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza and giving permits to senior officials to allow them to freely cross through Israeli checkpoints. The leaders also discussed legalizing more Palestinian construction in the West Bank.
“Gantz informed …Abbas of his intention to continue advancing confidence-building measures in economic and civilian areas, as was determined in their previous meeting,” the Israeli Defense Ministry said in a statement. “The defense minister emphasized the shared interest in strengthening security cooperation, preserving security stability and preventing terrorism and violence.”
Palestinian Civil Affairs Minister Hussein Al Sheikh said in a tweet that the meeting “dealt with the importance of creating a political horizon that leads to a political solution in accordance with international resolutions,” including tensions stemming from violence and “many security, economic and humanitarian issues.”
Israel’s governing coalition is an amalgam of right-wing, left-wing and Muslim parties, hence dabbling in divisive issues such as this is controversial. Gantz – who heads the centrist Blue and White party – has been the go-to leader for such meetings. Earlier this year he met with the King of Jordan as well, as part of an olive branch gesture in repairing relations between Israel and its neighboring country.
Gantz has said that empowering Abbas and his Fatah party will weaken Hamas and serve to improve Israel’s security.
“If the Palestinian Authority is stronger, Hamas will be weaker. When the Palestinian Authority has more ability to enforce order, there will be more security, and our hand will be forced less,” Gantz said in August.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Alternate Prime Minister Yair Lapid were informed of the meeting. It was reported that Bennett was opposed to the idea but said he could not stop it.
The meeting drew the ire of right-wing factions of the coalition, most of whom heard about it on the morning news shows.
“I would not invite to my home someone who pays salaries to murderers of Israelis and who is trying to put me on trial for war crimes,” said New Hope Minister Ze’ev Elkin on KAN Radio.
Not surprisingly, the Likud party – which sits in the opposition – bashed Bennett’s government as “returning Abbas and the Palestinians to the agenda.”
“Concessions that will be dangerous to Israeli security are only a matter of time,” the Likud said.
The Religious Zionist Party accused the “left-wing” government of “dividing the Land of Israel and forming a terror state off the international agenda.”
But the left-wing parties stood up for the meeting.
“Besides Hamas there and [Netanyahu] here, does anyone really oppose Gantz meeting Abbas?" Labor Knesset Member Emilie Moatti asked. “The defense minister is right to strengthen the moderates and make the extremists irrelevant. Seeking a diplomatic agreement is the most patriotic act that can be done for our wonderful state and its citizens.”
Nicole Jansezian is the news editor for both ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS and senior correspondent for ALL ISRAEL NEWS