Gantz offers Abbas series of goodwill gestures in rare Ramallah meeting

Gantz offers Abbas series of goodwill gestures in rare Ramallah meeting

16:40 - Gantz met with Palestinian leader just hours after Prime Minister Naftali Bennett returned from Washington DC.

Israel will make a series of goodwill gestures to the Palestinian Authority, Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Monday after a rare meeting with PA President Mahmoud Abbas the night before in Ramallah. Among the economic gestures offered to Abbas was a NIS 500 million loan, he said.

The loan will be taken from tax funds Israel has withheld from the PA to protest what Jerusalem calls its pay-for-slay policy, by which Palestinian terrorists and their family members receive monetary stipends.

The two men also spoke about ways to regulate the status of thousands of West Bank Palestinians who lack documentation, as well as ways to streamline digital VAT accounting for all Palestinian businesses that make purchases from Israel. Many of the permit applications for Palestinians will be digitized to streamline the process and make it easier and cheaper.

The moves also include allowing an additional 16,000 Palestinians to work in Israel and having the Civil Administration approve more Palestinian building projects in Area C of the West Bank, which is under full IDF military and civilian control.

Gantz met with Abbas just hours after Prime Minister Naftali Bennett returned from Washington. The face-to-face meeting was the first in a decade between Abbas and such a high-level Israeli official.

“Neither we nor the Palestinians are going anywhere tomorrow morning,” and steps must be taken to build trust between Israelis and Palestinians, Gantz said Monday afternoon in a briefing with reporters.

Gantz’s meeting came as the PA is dealing with a severe financial crisis and political unrest, with Abbas and his Fatah Party losing ground to Hamas. There has also been a spike in West Bank violence, and Palestinians in Gaza have renewed their violent border riots.

“I came to the meeting to build trust and safeguard the interests of the State of Israel and to strengthen our important ties with the Palestinian Authority,” Gantz said, adding that the stronger the PA is, the weaker Hamas will be in the West Bank, and Israel will have to act less there.

“We also discussed shaping the security and economic situations in the West Bank and in Gaza,” he said. “We agreed to continue communicating further on the issues that were raised during the meeting.”

“We also discussed shaping the security and economic situations in the West Bank and in Gaza,” he said. “We agreed to continue communicating further on the issues that were raised during the meeting.”

Bennett has insisted he has no plans to hold peace negotiations with the Palestinians. When Bennett took office, he did not exchange customary words with Abbas.

Bennett does not support a two-state solution but has said he would not try to annex parts of Judea and Samaria as the head of a government that spans diverse parts of the Israeli political spectrum.

A source close to Bennett clarified that the prime minister gave his consent to the meeting in advance.

“This is a meeting that dealt with joint, everyday issues between the security establishment and the Palestinian Authority,” the source said. “There is no diplomatic process with the Palestinians, nor will there be.”

Bennett does support moves to improve the Palestinians’ quality of life and to stabilize the PA, which he views as helpful to Israel’s security. The topic was among those he discussed with US President Joe Biden and top administration officials last week.

A senior diplomatic source said economic issues were a major focus of the Gantz-Abbas meeting.

Gantz believes an in-person, high-level meeting would be the way to move proposals forward, the source said. But the source was skeptical that Abbas was the key to concrete progress or that much would come of the meeting.

A portion of Sunday night’s Gantz-Abbas meeting in Ramallah was also attended by Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Maj.-Gen. Ghasan Alyan; Hussein al-Sheikh, head of the PA General Authority of Civil Affairs; and Majid Faraj, head of the PA General Intelligence Service. Gantz and Abbas also met alone.

Gantz telephoned Abbas in July to convey his good wishes for Eid al-Adha (Feast of the Sacrifice). President Isaac Herzog also spoke with Abbas in recent months.

Direct talks between Israel and the PA broke down in 2014 and have not been renewed. Those rounds of talks brokered by former US secretary of state John Kerry did not include an Abbas meeting.

Abbas met with former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu twice: once on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in 2009 and again in Washington in 2010. They did occasionally speak by phone, with the last such conversation taking place in 2017.

Abbas also came to Jerusalem for the funeral of former president Shimon Peres and has spoken informally both with Netanyahu and former president Reuven Rivlin.

Peres met Abbas at the Vatican in 2014 for a peace vigil with Pope Francis.

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