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Bennett, Gantz said to spar over Ramallah meeting with Abbas, Jordan’s Abdullah

PM reportedly opposed to defense minister attending, fearing it will overshadow Negev Summit between foreign ministers of Israel, US, UAE, Bahrain, Morocco, and Egypt

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Defense Minister Benny Gantz attend the annual ceremony for soldiers whose burial places are unknown, at Mount Herzl national cemetery in Jerusalem, on March 10, 2022. (Alex Kolomoisky/Pool/Flash90)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Defense Minister Benny Gantz attend the annual ceremony for soldiers whose burial places are unknown, at Mount Herzl national cemetery in Jerusalem, on March 10, 2022. (Alex Kolomoisky/Pool/Flash90)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Defense Minister Benny Gantz are engaged in a spat over the latter’s desire to attend an upcoming meeting in Ramallah between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Jordan’s King Abdullah II, according to reports in Hebrew media on Saturday night.

Channel 13 news reported that Gantz sought to take part in the meeting, set to take place early this coming week, to discuss efforts to prevent an escalation in violence over the upcoming holy Muslim month of Ramadan.

The network said Bennett put the kibosh on Gantz’s participation, feeling it would distract from the summit in southern Israel between the foreign ministers of Israel, the US, the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco, and Egypt, which is set to begin on Sunday.

Sources quoted by the Ynet and Walla news sites said that Bennett learned of Gantz’s intention to attend the meeting from an “Arab source” rather than the minister.

Walla also reported that Bennett had not yet ruled out the idea entirely, and was waiting for details from Gantz.

Channel 13 said Bennett and Gantz were to meet Sunday in a bid to clear the air.

Speaking with Channel 13, Culture Minister Chili Tropper, of Gantz’s Blue and White party, dismissed claims that the two leaders were on bad terms.

Culture Minister Chili Tropper at the Knesset, on April 29, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

“The matter will be decided between the prime minister and the defense minister,” he said.

“The planned event was set to deal with security issues, not political ones. The defense minister is committed to Israel’s security in order to prevent escalation [with the Palestinians], and the issue still needs the prime minister’s approval. I hope this will be resolved in the coming days, both are on good terms.”

Both Gantz and Bennett refused to comment on the report — the latest sign of growing tensions between the two.

On Thursday, Gantz announced that he will embark on a planned trip to India on Tuesday, four days before Bennett is scheduled to arrive in the country.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (left) speaks with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland, on November 2, 2021. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Bennett is slated to pay an official visit to India next month to commemorate 30 years of full diplomatic relations between the two nations, his office said Saturday.

Gantz is expected to travel with other defense officials and meet with his Indian counterpart, the Defense Ministry said in a statement.

The announcement of Gantz’s trip caught the Prime Minister’s Office off-guard, according to Haaretz, which cited an Israeli official who said that the minister was trying to upstage Bennett by traveling ahead of him.

The incident highlighted an apparent breakdown in coordination between the two men’s offices.

The tension between them dates back to the early days of the government, which is seen as divided into two distinct approaches to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Led by Bennett, the right-wing camp within the government seeks to strengthen the Jewish settlements in the West Bank, while Gantz, a member of the centrist camp, seeks to create more dialogue with the Palestinian Authority and ease security restrictions on Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Defense Minister Benny Gantz vote from the Knesset gallery due to quarantine requirements, on December 15, 2021. (Noam Moskowitz/Knesset)

Gantz’s Blue and White party has also expressed frustration that its legislative goals are not being sufficiently advanced, leading to several coalition crises in recent months.

Some political commentators have also described Gantz as unhappy with the current coalition, which forced him into a relative backseat position to Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, after he enjoyed greater power in the previous government, in which he served as alternate prime minister and Benjamin Netanyahu’s ostensible successor in the prime minister’s chair.

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