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Abbas, Herzog express hopes for upped cooperation in holiday call

PA chief also speaks to Gantz, looks for strengthening of ties in coming year as new government in Jerusalem broadens its contacts with Ramallah

Then-opposition leader Isaac Herzog meets with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, in the West Bank city of Ramallah. on December 1, 2013. (Issam Rimawi/Flash90/File)
Then-opposition leader Isaac Herzog meets with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, in the West Bank city of Ramallah. on December 1, 2013. (Issam Rimawi/Flash90/File)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas expressed hopes for increased cooperation with Israel during rare phone calls with President Isaac Herzog and Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Monday.

The calls from Abbas, marking the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah, came amid a flurry of activity seemingly aimed at restoring frayed ties between Ramallah and Jerusalem.

Abbas and Herzog “expressed hope that the new year will bring with it more cooperation and dialogue that will bring hope for both peoples,” a spokesman for Herzog said in a statement.

Gantz’s office said “the two discussed the need to strengthen ties in the coming year and wished each other a year of health, economic prosperity and security stability.”

A statement carried by official PA news outlet WAFA said that Abbas “expressed during the phone calls hope to achieve peace in the coming year.”

Herzog, Gantz and more moderate ministers in the government appear to be Abbas’s preferred points of contact in Jerusalem over Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who has not spoken with the PA president.

Abbas similarly preferred to speak with Herzog’s predecessor, Reuven Rivlin, over former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu when exchanging holiday greetings.

Bennett said last week that he would not meet Abbas, given the latter’s decision to bring Israel before the International Criminal Court on charges of war crimes.

Last month, Gantz met Abbas in Ramallah, in the first high-level face-to-face talks between Israeli and Palestinian officials in over a decade.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz attends a conference for retired Israelis in the Eshkol region, on July 13, 2021. (Flash90)

A statement from Gantz’s office at the time said that the two discussed issues related to security, diplomacy, economics, and civil affairs in wide-ranging talks.

Following the meeting, Gantz reiterated that neither Israel’s government nor the PA expect any sort of diplomatic agreement anytime soon, but are still looking to cooperate on security concerns.

Israel and the PA historically maintain security cooperation in the West Bank that both see as vital. However, security ties were downgraded last year as ties with the Palestinians soured amid a flurry of moves by then-United States president Donald Trump that appeared to favor the Israeli position. Abbas said that they would reinstated after US President Joe Biden took office in January.

Monday’s call was the second holiday greeting Herzog received from an Arab leader recently. Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi called the president on Sunday, congratulating him on his new role, as well as sending his blessings to the Israeli nation ahead of the Jewish high holidays.

Herzog’s office said that the pair discussed “bilateral issues and topics of joint concern between the neighboring countries,” and that Herzog thanked Sissi for “the important role he plays in maintaining stability and peace in the region.”

Bennett, who has ruled out starting a diplomatic process with the PA, is expected to visit Egypt later this month, after receiving an invitation from Sissi during Egyptian spy chief Abbas Kamel’s trip to Israel last month.

Sissi hosted Abbas and Jordan’s King Abdullah II for talks in Cairo last week that included discussions on efforts to restart the moribund Mideast peace process.

Jordan’s King Abdullah II (left), Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi (center) and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas attend a trilateral summit in Cairo, on September 2, 2021. (AP)

Herzog met Abdullah last week in Amman, in a visit that was only revealed on Saturday evening.

“There is a sense in the region of a desire to make progress, a desire to speak,” Herzog said following his visit to Jordan. “We are currently marking one year since the signing of the Abraham Accords. These accords created an important regional infrastructure. They are highly important agreements, which are transforming our region and the dialogue within it… I think that it is very important for the State of Israel’s strategic and diplomatic interests to engage everyone in dialogue.”

Bennett secretly met with Abdullah in Jordan in July, just weeks after taking office as prime minister, in the first summit between the countries’ leaders in more than three years.

Tensions between Jordan and Israel had risen during former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s tenure, but appear to have improved since Bennett took office in June, including agricultural deals and a major water sale.

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