Defense Minister Benny Gantz defended his recent meetings with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the wake of a widely condemned accusation Abbas made a day earlier that Israel had committed “50 holocausts” against Palestinians over the years.
Amid renewed attacks from right-wing politicians on the topic, Gantz charged that his meetings with Abbas were necessary due to the ongoing security coordination between Israel and the PA, but also labeled Abbas’s comments “despicable and false.”
“I demanded that he retract them and it is good that he did so,” Gantz said during a tour Wednesday of the south following last week’s fighting with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza.
“We manage a complex security and political reality, the consequences of which we saw only a week ago in the region,” Gantz explained.
“I hear the criticism of my conversations and that of the security establishment with the leadership of the Palestinian Authority and in the field,” Gantz said.
“I will continue to do everything necessary to maintain security stability, guarantee the freedom of action of the State of Israel, and above all to protect human life,” he added, urging his opponents not to play politics with Israel’s security.
Abbas’s remarks, made during a joint press conference with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Berlin on Tuesday, were roundly lambasted in Israel, the United States and Germany, including by Scholz himself, who was criticized for remaining silent during the press conference.
Abbas somewhat walked back his comments in a statement released by the Palestinian Authority’s official WAFA news agency on Wednesday, claiming he had merely been intending to highlight Israeli “crimes.”
Gantz has met with the aging PA president several times over the past year, most recently last month to discuss security coordination ahead of US President Joe Biden’s visit to Israel and the West Bank.
The meetings have come under fire by right-wing members of both the governing coalition and the opposition, and even encountered resistance from former prime minister Naftali Bennett while he held the role.
Bennett noted on Wednesday that he never met or conducted negotiations with Abbas while premier, “even in the face of internal and external pressures,” and repeated a common refrain in Israeli politics that Abbas was not a “partner” for a peace process with the Palestinians.
“A ‘partner’ that denies the Holocaust, chases our soldiers to the Hague and pays the salaries of terrorists — he is not a partner,” Bennett tweeted, referencing Abbas’s efforts to bring IDF soldiers to the International Criminal Court, as well as the PA’s policy of paying the families of terrorists.
In a video posted on social media Wednesday, opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu called on Gantz and Prime Minister Yair Lapid to “stop sucking up to this Holocaust denier” after Abbas’s “outrageous statement.”
Netanyahu claimed that during his time as prime minister, his government’s isolation of the PA chief “successfully brought about four historic peace agreements with Arab states,” referencing the Abraham Accords, which birthed diplomatic ties with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and sparked a process aimed at full relations with Sudan.
Netanyahu and Abbas’s last official meeting was in Jerusalem in 2010 but they encountered one another at the funeral of former prime minister Shimon Peres in September 2016, where they briefly exchanged pleasantries.
Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel — who recently moved from Blue and White to Yamina ahead of the upcoming election — wrote on Twitter: “I appreciate Gantz, he is a worthy person, but it is permissible to disagree with him politically. His meetings with [Abbas], who denies the Holocaust and fights us at the Hague, are a strategic and moral error.”
Yad Vashem chairman Dani Dayan criticized the reaction of politicians to Abbas’s statement in an interview with Army Radio on Wednesday, accusing them of using the situation to squabble with their rivals.
“The fact that at the beginning they condemned Mahmoud Abbas is an obvious reaction. But at the end of the remarks, they started a political argument. This is also wrongful use of the Holocaust, in my opinion,” he said.
Gantz first spoke on the phone with Abbas in mid-July 2021. The two later formally met in Ramallah in late August, marking the first such high-level contact between senior Israeli and Palestinian decision-makers in over a decade.