Palestinian Authority’s Abbas visits Israel’s Gantz in rare trip

In first official trip to Israel in years, Mahmoud Abbas and Benny Gantz discuss ‘security, civil matters’ in Gantz’s home.

President Mahmoud Abbas gestures during a meeting in Ramallah, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank August 18, 2020.
Mahmoud Abbas's PA has limited autonomy in the areas it administers across the occupied West Bank [File: Mohamad Torokman/Pool via Reuters]

Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas has held talks with Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz during a rare visit to Israel.

In a statement on Tuesday, the Israeli defence ministry said “the two men discussed security and civil matters” during the meeting, which Israeli media reported took place at Gantz’s home in Rosh Ha’ayin in central Israel.

Gantz told Abbas he intended to “continue to promote actions to strengthen confidence in the economic and civilian fields, as agreed during their last meeting”, the statement added.

In late August, Gantz visited the PA’s headquarters in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah for talks with Abbas. It was the first official meeting at such a level in several years.

But after those talks, Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said there was no peace process ongoing with the Palestinians, “and there won’t be one”.

On Wednesday, Israel’s defence ministry announced “confidence-building measures” with the PA. They included a $32m advance payment to the PA in taxes collected on its behalf by Israel and the granting of 600 extra permits allowing Palestinian businessmen to cross into Israel.

Earlier in the day, Palestinian Civil Affairs Minister Hussein Al Sheikh tweeted that Abbas’s latest meeting with Gantz “dealt with the importance of creating a political horizon that leads to a political solution in accordance with international resolutions”. The last round of peace talks, brokered by the United States, collapsed in 2014.

The pair also discussed “the tense conditions on the ground due to the practices of settlers, and the meeting dealt with many security, economic and humanitarian issues”, according to Al Sheikh.

For his part, Gantz tweeted: “We discussed the implementation of economic and civilian measures, and emphasised the importance of deepening security coordination and preventing terror and violence – for the well-being of both Israelis and Palestinians.”

The meeting, which lasted for two and a half hours, 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.

‘American pressure’

Al Jazeera’s Harry Fawcett, reporting from West Jerusalem, said observers believe that US pressure “to see progress or at least some indication of willingness to talk by the Israelis with the Palestinians” is likely what prompted the meeting.

“Bennett is still rejecting that the US reopen its Palestinian-focused consulate in Jerusalem,” Fawcett noted, referring to Washington’s announcement in May that it planned to restore ties with Palestinians, which had been downgraded by the administration of former President Donald Trump.

Also, the “security situation in the occupied West Bank and inside East Jerusalem in recent weeks has deteriorated”, possibly playing a part in prompting the latest meeting, Fawcett added.

Meanwhile, Hamas, the group that governs the besieged Gaza Strip, condemned the talks between Gantz and Abbas, saying the meeting departs from the “national spirit of the Palestinian people”.

Spokesman Hazem Qassem added the behaviour of the PA’s leadership will “deepen the Palestinian political division and complicates the Palestinian situation”.

Israeli opposition party Likud also criticised the meeting, saying that “concessions dangerous for Israel’s security were only a matter of time”.

“The Israeli-Palestinian government has put the Palestinians and Abbas back on the agenda … it is dangerous for Israel,” the party added in a statement.

Relations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority have deteriorated substantially over the years.

Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu sidelined the issue during his 2009 to 2021 tenure as prime minister, which also saw the collapse of peace talks. Meanwhile, he oversaw a steady expansion of illegal Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem. Settlements and outposts are regarded as illegal under international law.

His successor, Bennett, is a hardline nationalist who opposes Palestinian statehood and previously led a powerful settler lobbying council.

Although he says he wants to reduce friction with the PA, the West Bank has seen a surge in violence by settlers against Palestinian civilians.

Abbas’s Ramallah-based government has limited autonomy in the areas it administers across the occupied West Bank. It seeks an independent state that includes all of the West Bank, occupied East Jerusalem and the besieged Gaza Strip.

Israel seized all three areas in 1967 and maintains control over them.

The PA has also come under mounting global criticism over a crackdown on key rights and activists.

With his government widely viewed as corrupt and authoritarian, a recent poll in June showed that support for Abbas, who took power in 2005 ostensibly for a four-year term, has plummeted.

Many have also criticised the PA’s close security coordination with Israel, seen by many Palestinians as a significant betrayal.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies