Hamas Cries Treason as PA’s Abbas, Israel’s Defense Minister Gantz Hold Talks
Israel offering economic improvement in exchange for security stability
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas hosted Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz in the West Bank on Sunday for the first official Israeli-Palestinian talks in over a decade.
This meeting came with the approval of Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who entered office in June, and hours after his return from the United States and his meeting with President Joe Biden.
Dimitri Diliani, spokesperson of the Reformist Democratic faction within Fatah, affiliated with Abbas rival Mohammed Dahlan, told The Media Line it was not the right call by the PA president.
“I don’t believe that it’s proper for the president of the Palestinian state to meet with the so-called defense minister of the State of Israel, because if there should be a meeting, it should be between the prime minister and the president. But in light of the refusal of the Israeli PM to meet President Abbas, he gave in and met with Gantz,” Diliani said.
Prof. Uzi Rabi, director of the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University, told The Media Line that this has to do with the Bennett-Biden meeting.
“I think that the meeting [in Ramallah] actually was planned almost a year ago, but it couldn’t be carried out because of the political situation in Israel,” he added.
The talks lasted two and a half hours, including a 40-minute private meeting between Abbas and Gantz.
“Defense Minister Benny Gantz met with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmud Abbas [Sunday] evening to discuss security policy, civilian and economic issues,” Israel’s Defense Ministry said in a statement.
Gantz, head of the centrist Blue and White party in Israel’s government coalition, “told 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,” the statement added.
“They agreed to continue communicating further,” it continued.
Gantz told military reporters on Monday that he offered Abbas a 500 million shekel (approximately $155 million) loan, and ways to strengthen security coordination.
Diliani said, “It’s the Israeli agenda to have this exchange, where it supplies the Palestinians an improved economic standard of living in return for security services that the PA provides for the State of Israel.”
Top officials from both sides attended the meeting – Maj. Gen. Ghasan Alyan, the head of the Israeli military branch responsible for civil affairs in the Palestinian territories; PA Minister of Civil Affairs Hussein Al-Sheikh; and Palestinian General Intelligence Service chief Maj. Gen. Majid Faraj.
Israel offered concessions designed to strengthen the Palestinian Authority and Abbas in order to provide him the legitimacy that he desperately needs and to undermine Hamas’ rule in Gaza.
According to Al-Sheikh, the meeting resulted in agreements for Israel to issue 15,000 additional work permits for Palestinians to work inside the Green Line; limited Palestinian construction in Area C of the West Bank, where Israel has full civilian and security control; the funneling of Qatari funds via the Palestinian Authority into the Gaza Strip for charitable purposes and to pay government salaries and fuel; and family reunification for Palestinians.
Initially, the family reunification arrangement will apply to 5,000 Palestinians, “as a first batch on the road to finalizing the issue entirely in a prearranged time frame,” Al-Sheikh said.
An estimated 22,000 Palestinians are asking for improved residency status under family unification.
These are persons who were born abroad and then returned to the Palestinian territories, or who moved from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank, as well as families where a spouse holds citizenship in an Arab country abroad and does not have a Palestinian identity card. Israel considers their residency status illegal and they are threatened with deportation at any moment.
It should be noted that this agreement does not include families in which one spouse is from the West Bank and the other is from east Jerusalem or Israel proper.
This meeting served to reinforce the US administration’s policy, which is to push for stability in the PA through economic support and improving the living conditions of the Palestinians in return for security stability.
This for many Palestinians is quite a dangerous step.
“It transforms the Palestinian cause from a political issue and an issue of occupation into an economic issue,” Hasan Awwad, an expert on Palestinian affairs at the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut, told The Media Line.
Israeli Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel told Channel 11, “It is in our interest that the PA does not collapse and to support it economically, and what is required of the PA is to clean the garbage from the streets of Jenin and Ramallah and weaken Hamas.”
Relations between Israel and the PA deteriorated considerably in the last 12 years under former Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
Peace talks collapsed in 2014, and efforts to revive negotiations have failed.
Bennett is a right-wing nationalist who opposes the establishment of a Palestinian state, and previously led a powerful umbrella organization of municipal councils of Jewish settlements.
His coalition government is made up of ideologically contradictory parties, including left-wingers, centrists, hawks and Islamists.
Bennett made it clear that he has no plans to initiate a new round of peace talks.
In a tweet, Al-Sheikh referred to the Israeli defense minister as “Mr. Gantz” and didn’t mention his position so as not to offend Palestinians.
Despite Al-Sheikh’s statement saying that Abbas and Gantz discussed all issues, a close adviser to the president told The Media Line the meeting focused on financial and security issues between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
Prof. Rabi, from the Moshe Dayan Center at Tel Aviv University, said Israel had no choice but to speak with the PA.
“We must talk to the other side. Yes, Abu Mazen [Abbas] has some problems and he’s a hated man [among many Palestinians] right now. We know what the alternative is. Hamas is the worse option.
“Because of this, Israel is drawing closer to the conclusion that the PA should be cooperated with and talked to. Otherwise, we will all be left behind and enable these dark forces to come to the fore,” he said.
This meeting could be part of an initiative to create a joint security and economic “NATO” that includes Israel, the Gulf states, Jordan, Egypt and the PA, Rabi said. Such an alliance, he continued, would aim to provide comprehensive protection against “the Iranian threat and the power vacuum left by the US pullout from Afghanistan.
“This meeting could also be a discussion about an Arab-Israeli economic NATO organization which will benefit all players. And I’m pretty sure this would gain the support of the US. With the US withdrawing from the region, this economic and security coordination is important,” Rabi said, adding, “What is going on in the Middle East is very critical: There’s huge concern about Afghanistan, Iran of course, Iraq and Lebanon.”
This comes on the heels of news of a tripartite summit to be held in Cairo on Thursday, between Abbas, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi and King Abdullah II of Jordan.
Hamas spokesman Abd al-Latif al-Qanou called the meeting with Gantz a betrayal of the Palestinian cause.
“Abbas’ meeting with the minister of the occupation army is a stab in the back of our people and its sacrifices, a betrayal of the blood of the martyrs, and the continuation of the downfall, the abandonment of national values and the beautification of the face of the occupation,” Qanou said.
Islamic Jihad also condemned the meeting, accusing the PA of turning its back on the Palestinian national consensus by meeting with the “Zionist enemy.”
Awwad said the PA has been successful in convincing everyone that if it does not receive political and financial support, it will collapse and that the alternative is grim.
“They use the possibility of Hamas winning any election and scare them with chaos if the PA collapses,” he added. “I’m convinced that now after this meeting, the EU and Gulf states will resume financial support to the PA at the request of the US.”
The PA is under enormous domestic pressure and international criticism for its ongoing crackdown on civil liberties, and for its iron fist when dealing with peaceful protests. It also faces accusations of rampant corruption and nepotism.
The PA is sensitive about its image on the global stage, which is one of the reasons for its suppression of protesters and the journalists covering them. The more media coverage the protests get, the more pressure the PA comes under from the international community, including the United States and the European Union.
The 85-year-old Abbas is also facing division inside his Fatah party.
Abbas was elected president in 2005, for what was supposed to be a four-year term.
He dissolved the Palestinian Legislative Council in 2019, suspending a main pillar of Palestinian democracy, and has been ruling via executive orders.
It is one-man rule in the territory under Abbas’ control in the West Bank, and he has total and unprecedented control over the Fatah party, the PA and the PLO, as he is simultaneously the head of all three bodies.
The autocratic president has been facing a legitimacy crisis, and the only way out of it was to call elections. But Abbas’ decree to hold elections, issued in January, exposed him to the electorate, throwing his political future into the unknown, and providing opponents from within the Fatah movement a rare opportunity to challenge his rule.
He canceled the parliamentary election slated for May and the presidential vote set for July.
Palestinians accuse the international community of looking the other way. The economic situation in the Palestinian territories is teetering on the verge of collapse and the internal Palestinian divide is growing deeper.
“It seems that there is American support from the current US administration without making the PA accountable for its actions, and without any consideration for human rights. Human rights are red lines,” activist Issa Amro told The Media Line.
The United Nations and European Union last week expressed concerns over a wave of arrests targeting leading critics of Abbas and the PA.