Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas Makes Rare Visit to Israel
Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz (L) and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. (Wikimedia Commons)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas Makes Rare Visit to Israel

Abbas met with Israel’s Defense Minister Benny Gantz at his home in central Israel, where they discussed plans to advance economic and security cooperation  

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas traveled to Israel on Tuesday night for a rare meeting with Israel’s Defense Minister Benny Gantz.

Abbas headed a high-ranking delegation of officials on his first visit to Israel for an official meeting since 2010; he was accompanied by PA General Authority for Civil Affairs Hussein al-Sheikh, and Majed Faraj, head of General Intelligence Service.

This was the second meeting between the two men. The first meeting took place in August in Ramallah, the PA seat of government in the West Bank.

Gantz said that the meeting can be characterized as part of “confidence-building measures.”

“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 after the meeting.

The measures include a 100 million shekel, or $32 million, advance payment to the PA of taxes collected on its behalf by Israel, and the granting of 600 extra permits allowing Palestinian businessmen to cross into Israel.

Israel also announced the legalization of the status of 6,000 more Palestinians living in the West Bank later on Tuesday.

This comes on the heels of a similar announcement in October, when Israel for the first time since 2009 allowed the regularization of the status of 4,000 Palestinians living in Area C of the West Bank, where Israel has civilian as well as military control.

The Fatah movement, which Abbas heads, issued a statement saying the meeting with Gantz is a serious attempt to put an end to Israel’s escalatory practices against the Palestinian people.

The statement came in response to Hamas’ strong and harsh condemnation of the meeting.

Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem said that the meeting “is rejected and deviates from the national spirit of our Palestinian people.”

“The behavior of the PA leadership deepens the internal division, encourages some parties in the region that want to be normalized with the occupation, and weakens the Palestinian position that rejects normalization,” Qassem said.

The reformist movement of Abbas’ Fatah also criticized the meeting, describing it as a “political and social concession.”

“The meeting is a great challenge and the last chance before the explosion and entering into a dead-end, and a serious and bold attempt to open a political path based on international legitimacy and put an end to the escalatory practices against the Palestinian people,” al-Sheikh, who participated in the meeting, said Wednesday.

The timing of the meeting is critical: the PA is going through a very difficult financial time, as well as growing internal opposition, which threatens its stability

Gantz also received his share of criticism from right-wing politicians from the opposition, as well as from members of the government coalition.

“As tension has risen in the Palestinian territories, there is a state of fear from all sides. If things erupt, everyone will be harmed, the Authority and Israel,” attorney Moien Odeh, who specializes in human rights and international law, told The Media Line.

The meeting took place at Gantz’s home in central Israel and not in his office, which has led many to wonder if he was acting in his official capacity and if the outcome of the meeting will reflect or at least receive the support or approval of Israel’s government.

Professor Efraim Inbar, president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security (JISS), a conservative think tank, told The Media Line that the meeting with Gantz gives it a “security dimension” and, in addition, the fact that the meeting took place at the private residence of the defense minister “indicates some measure of intimacy between the two.”

“One reason for the meeting is the increase of tension in the West Bank because of Hamas’ incitement. Second reason is the usual Palestinian demands of getting more access to the Israeli labor market,” he said.

The Abbas-Gantz meeting dealt more with security and financial issues and didn’t include discussion of any political topics.

Esmat Mansour, a Ramallah-based political analyst, told The Media Line that the meeting benefits Israel a lot more than the PA.

“Israel has succeeded in changing the conflict’s narrative from a political issue to an economic one,” Mansour said. He added that the stability of the PA is a “strategic goal” for Israel and, therefore, making sure Abbas’ rule is stable is a priority for many.

“The timing of the meeting is critical: the PA is going through a very difficult financial time, as well as growing internal opposition, which threatens its stability,” he added.

All these factors push Israel to support the PA financially, Mansour said.

But he doesn’t deny that the PA also is benefiting from the meeting and the outcome.

“Despite the lack of a political horizon and the difficult financial situation, the PA is looking for steps to keep it alive,” he said.

At a time when the PA says its priority is political and that it is trying to revive the stalled peace process, Israel seems focused on the economic side of the conflict by offering the Palestinians financial incentives.

“Whether it likes it or not the PA has indirectly caved in and accepted that. It realizes that this is what is possible now and is better than nothing,” Mansour explained.

Abbas’ popularity currently is at its lowest, while his rival Hamas, the Islamist group that rules the Gaza Strip, is gaining more support among Palestinians.

Israel and the PA accuse Hamas of trying to destabilize the West Bank.

“Abbas doesn’t want chaos, he can’t move to elections or enter into a state of confrontation that might weaken the PA, and strengthen Hamas, and thus he has become captive to this current political situation,” according to Mansour.

The meeting comes one week after the US national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, met with Israeli and Palestinian officials.

“Of course, Washington has something to do with it as it wants to see the PA empowered. Let’s not forget that Gantz has a good relationship with the Biden administration,” Mansour said.

The defense minister is in charge of the territories and communication with the PA, and he is the address for Palestinians

The reason behind Abbas meeting with Gantz, and not Israel’s prime minister or foreign minister, is that Gantz has a central position in the security establishment and also has a good relationship with the White House.

All the financial and security arrangements between Israel and the PA pass through Gantz’s Defense Ministry, which is the central address for managing the relationship with the PA.

Many of Abbas’ critics point out that the protocol calls for the PA president to meet the head of the Israeli government and not the defense minister.

“Bennett does not want to give Abbas credibility and wants to preserve his own political approach, and protect his political base. The Israelis see the relationship with the Palestinians based on the security and economic aspect, without a political track,” Odeh said.

“This is exactly why Bennet doesn’t want to meet him,” Inbar said.

“The defense minister is in charge of the territories and communication with the PA, and he is the address for Palestinians,” he added.

 

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