Urged by U.S., Israel’s Gantz holds talks with Abbas

Mahmud Abbas and Benny Gantz, right .   | Photo Credit: THAER GHANAIM;MENAHEM KAHANA

Israel’s Defence Minister has met Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas for a rare high-level meeting, but a source close to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett insisted on Monday his government had no plans to reboot peace talks.

Defence Minister Benny Gantz met Abbas in Ramallah late on Sunday for what were reportedly the first direct talks between an Israeli cabinet member and the 86-year-old Palestinian leader in several years.

The meeting, which Mr. Gantz’s office said focused on “security policy, civilian and economic issues”, came just hours after Mr. Bennett returned from Washington where he met U.S. President Joe Biden.

Mr. Biden had said he would urge Mr. Bennett to find ways “to advance peace and security and prosperity for Israelis and Palestinians”.

According to a Defence Ministry statement, Mr. Gantz told Mr. Abbas that Israel “seeks to take measures that will strengthen the PA’s economy.”

“They also discussed shaping the security and economic situations in the West Bank and in Gaza,” and agreed to “continue communicating further,” it added.

A source close to Mr. Bennett said the meeting that he had approved focused on “issues between the defence establishment and the Palestinian Authority.”

“There is no peace process with the Palestinians nor will there be,” under Mr. Bennett’s leadership, said the source who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The Gantz-Abbas meeting also included the head of the Israeli military branch responsible for civil affairs in the Palestinian territories, Ghasan Alyan, senior PA official Hussein Al Sheikh and Palestinian intelligence chief Majid Faraj.

Mr. Gantz’s office said he and Mr. Abbas had held “a one-on-one meeting” after the broader talks.

Mr. Al Sheikh confirmed the meeting on Twitter but the PA was not immediately available to comment on its substance.

Hamas vs Abbas

Mr. Bennett, 49, took office in June as head of an eclectic coalition in which his hawkish party holds only a handful of seats.

He is a long-standing opponent of Palestinian statehood and the former head of a council that lobbies for Jewish settlers in the West Bank, a territory occupied by Israel since 1967.

Jewish settlements in the West Bank are considered illegal under international law.

Despite Mr. Bennett’s personal views, his government has sought to warm ties with the PA after relations had effectively collapsed under former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu who was in power from 2009 until June this year.

Mr. Netanyahu, also a pro-settlement right-winger long reviled by Palestinians, further alienated Abbas through his tight embrace of former U.S. president Donald Trump, who was accused of extreme pro-Israel bias.

Palestinian division

Mr. Bennett’s government has indicated a desire to boost the PA amid concern over a fresh conflict with Hamas Islamists who control Israeli-blockaded Gaza and are rivals of Abbas’s secular Fatah movement.

An 11-day conflict in May between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza marked the worst hostilities in the area since 2014 and unrest has persisted despite an Egypt-brokered ceasefire.

On Monday, an Israeli Border Police soldier shot during border clashes with Gaza nine days ago died of his wounds.

Hamas, meanwhile, condemned the Abbas-Gantz meeting, charging that it “deepens Palestinian political division.”

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Printable version | Nov 27, 2021 11:45:57 PM |

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