Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Friday to convey his wishes for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the month of Ramadan.
Netanyahu also told Abbas that the citizens of Israel want peace and that Israel would continue to act toward regional stability, according to a statement released by the Prime Minister’s Office on Friday.
The Palestinian news agency WAFA said Abbas told Netanyahu it is important to reach a peace deal next year.
It was the first official, publicized call between the Israeli and Palestinian leader since June 2014. The two had last spoken in this capacity in June of last year when the three Israeli teenagers — Naftali Fraenkel, Eyal Yifrach and Gil-ad Shaar — were kidnapped and subsequently killed by a Hamas-affiliated cell in the West Bank.
But secret contacts between Netanyahu and Abbas have been taking place for several months, according to recent reports, including in The Times of Israel. Those reports have been denied by both the PMO and chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat.
Sources had told Times of Israel correspondent Avi Issacharoff this week that both sides have taken a number of steps over the past three months, including, on Israel’s part, a slowdown in settlement construction, in a bid to calm the situation in light of the instability spreading across the Middle East.
The steps were taken “not by agreement but as part of a reassessment of the situation in the region,” a Palestinian official said.
Palestinian measures have included halting, for the time being, applications to join UN agencies and other international bodies as part of the Palestinian statehood drive.
“Each side understands the other side’s needs,” a source told The Times of Israel.
While Israeli construction in the West Bank has continued, new permits for future building plans have been held up for months.
An Israeli source defined ongoing construction as continuing “natural expansion” but nothing beyond that.
Official talks between Israel and the Palestinians have been in a deep freeze since last year when a US-led, nine-month effort to negotiate a framework agreement for peace failed.
Since the talks collapsed, the Palestinian Authority has turned to the international arena in an effort to gain legitimacy, including a failed attempt last December to have the UN Security Council recognize a Palestinian state and force a deadline for an agreement, and a successful bid in April to join the International Criminal Court.
Erekat told The Times of Israel on Thursday that not only were the reports of a settlement slowdown untrue, but the Palestinian Authority even intends to take further international actions to punish Israel for its alleged human rights violations, force it to obey international law and accept the Palestinian right to statehood in the territories.
Israeli officials, however, said that Erekat himself was present at the latest meeting with Netanyahu’s representative Yitzhak Molcho.