The cabinet on Sunday was set to vote on a series of economic incentives for the Palestinians, ahead of US President Donald Trump’s visit to Israel on Monday.
Among the measures to be presented by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is the opening of the Allenby Bridge crossing between the West Bank and Jordan 24 hours a day, progress in developing West Bank industrial zones near Jenin and Tarkumiya (west of Hebron), and increased building permits for Palestinians living in Area C of the West Bank.
The Prime Minister’s Office was reportedly concerned the measures would face opposition from Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett, who was said to be working to dissuade other cabinet members from backing Netanyahu’s plan.
According to Army Radio, Bennett — who has advocated economic incentives for the Palestinians in the past — over the weekend spoke with “a large number” of cabinet ministers, arguing that increased Palestinian building in Area C was a de facto change in borders, and that Israel will receive nothing in return for the gesture.
Transportation and Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz on Sunday told the radio station the cabinet should vote in favor of Netanyahu’s proposal, saying the measures would bolster Israel’s diplomacy in the region.
“The discussions are not based on any party affiliation, nor should they be, but on diplomatic considerations,” he said.
“We want to improve the lives of Palestinians in this area, and from what I know of this framework, there is a definite intention to take steps that will enable economic development for Palestinians.”
Katz added the confidence-building measures would serve to ease tensions between Israel and the Arab world.
“In the framework of the cooperation with Arab countries, there must be steps taken toward ensuring the economic development of the Palestinians,” Katz said, adding that many Middle East states have “an existential interest in cooperating with Israel.”
On Sunday, cabinet member and Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben Dahan (Jewish Home) joined Bennett in opposing Netanyahu’s economic incentive package.
“What confidence measures are being taken by the Palestinians? Just the other day they tried to carry out a lynching,” Ben Dahan told Army Radio, referring to a deadly incident in the West Bank last week, in which an Israeli was mobbed by Palestinian rock-throwers in West Bank and opened fire, killing one of the them.
Despite the opposition by the Jewish Home ministers, Netanyahu was expected to retain a majority in the cabinet, ensuring the plan will pass.
Trump will reportedly ask Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to commit to confidence-building measures in order to lay the groundwork to restart the peace process during his visit to the region this week.
A senior White House official told the Haaretz daily that Trump will urge Netanyahu to restrict settlement building in the West Bank and take steps to strengthen the Palestinian economy, and urge Abbas to stop PA-sponsored incitement against Israel.
“The president has made a general statement regarding his position and he hopes the Israeli government will take it into consideration,” the White House official told Haaretz in a report published Sunday. “He was also very direct with President Abbas regarding incitement and the paying of stipends to the families of terrorists.”
“He has been clear about these issues, and will remain clear on those issues during the visit,” the unnamed official said.
Trump is scheduled to visit Israel and the West Bank on Monday and Tuesday for meetings with Netanyahu and Abbas as part of his efforts to renew the long-dormant peace talks between the two sides.
Trump and senior White House aides arrived in Saudi Arabia on Saturday on the first leg of his trip to the Middle East.
The US leader has repeatedly indicated that he would like to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal and in an interview Thursday with the Israel Hayom newspaper said he “honestly, truly” thinks he can do so.