Dec 29, 2021 - World

Israeli defense minister hosts Palestinian president for rare meeting

Mahmoud Abbas. Photo: Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas visited the home of Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Tuesday for his first official meeting in Israel since 2010.

Why it matters: This was the second meeting between Abbas and Gantz in four months, and is part of a broader effort by Israel's new government and the Palestinian Authority to reset relations.

Flashback: During former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's 12-year tenure, there was almost no contact between the Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

  • Abbas met with Netanyahu and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Jerusalem in 2010. He also greeted Netanyahu briefly at the funeral of former Israeli president and prime minister Shimon Peres in 2016.
  • That was the last time Abbas had set foot in Israel prior to Tuesday's meeting at Gantz's home in the town of Rosh Haayin.

Driving the news: The meeting lasted two and a half hours and focused mainly on security coordination and economic cooperation, senior Israeli officials say.

  • Gantz presented Abbas with a series of measures Israel will take to boost the sputtering Palestinian economy, including a $30 million loan to the Palestinian Authority.
  • One of the main issues Abbas raised was the recent attacks by Jewish settlers against Palestinians in the West Bank. Abbas warned Gantz that they could lead to violent reprisals from Palestinians and wider escalation in the West Bank, Israeli and Palestinian officials say.
  • Gantz and Abbas agreed to strengthen security coordination and increase security measures against extremist groups on both sides who are planning attacks.
  • Abbas told Gantz he was satisfied with his meeting last week with White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan, but said the U.S. isn’t giving the Palestinian Authority enough financial support

Between the lines: The Israeli government is concerned that the economic and political turmoil in the West Bank and Gaza Strip could lead to a violent escalation on the ground. It's working to strengthen the Palestinian Authority, which faces a crisis of legitimacy after again postponing elections last spring.

  • Netanyahu, by contrast, was accused of seeking to weaken the Palestinian Authority and effectively strengthen its more extremist political rival, Hamas, in order to reduce the pressure to hold peace talks.
  • In Tuesday's meeting, Abbas told Gantz he understands that the current Israeli government — an unwieldy coalition of right-wing, centrist and left-wing parties — won't be able politically to move toward peace talks. But he stressed that the sides should continue to meet and signal there is an alternative political horizon to that of Hamas.

What they're saying: “The meeting was the last chance before the explosion and before finding ourselves at a dead end. It’s a serious and bold attempt to [find] a political path," tweeted Palestinian Minister for Civilian Affairs Hussein al-Sheikh, who attended the meeting.

  • Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said the meeting was important for Israel’s security and its international standing.
  • Prime Minister Naftali Bennett approved Gantz's meeting but didn't comment on it. He has said he won't meet with Abbas.
  • Now opposition leader, Netanyahu and his Likud party criticized the meeting and attacked Gantz. On the Palestinian side, Hamas criticized the meeting and attacked Abbas.
  • State Department spokesman Ned Price said the U.S. was "very pleased" by the meeting and hoped the "confidence-building measures discussed will accelerate momentum to further advance freedom, security, and prosperity for Palestinians and Israelis alike in 2022."
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