Gantz, ‘disappointed’ by criticism of Abbas meeting, vows to meet PA chief again

‘Behind closed doors, they sound different,’ defense minister says of cabinet members who publicly sounded off after he hosted the Palestinian leader at his home

Defense Minister Benny Gantz speaks during a Blue and White faction meeting at the Knesset on December 6, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz speaks during a Blue and White faction meeting at the Knesset on December 6, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Monday pushed back against criticism of his recent meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, vowing to continue meeting with the PA leader.

“I heard the criticism and again say, it’s the one who sends soldiers into battle who’s responsible for doing everything to prevent it,” Gantz said during a faction meeting of his Blue and White party.

Gantz hosted Abbas at his home in Rosh Ha’ayin last week, the first time the PA leader met with a senior Israeli official inside Israel since 2010. It was also their second meeting since the new Israeli government was formed in June, with the first sit-down held in Ramallah.

The meeting was strongly criticized by right-wing opposition parties and some hawkish members of the ruling coalition, which includes factions spanning the political spectrum and has clashed over various policy matters, including those pertaining to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“I was disappointed by cabinet ministers who preferred to speak from a political position at the expense of security needs. Behind closed doors, they sound different,” Gantz said. “For me, whenever the political interest runs into the security interest, security must always prevail.”

Gantz said “the need to maintain Israel’s security” was the main focus of his meeting with Abbas, along with countering the Hamas terror group.

“And this is the reason I will continue to meet with him and other elements in the region with whom discourse helps our stability, security and interests,” he said.

The defense minister said he believed it was in the Palestinians’ interest “that calm create a healthy economy for them with a horizon for a better future.”

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during a joint statement with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, May 25, 2021, in the West Bank city of Ramallah. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, Pool, File)

Gantz was also asked if he had sought approval from Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to meet with Abbas or had updated him about the meeting.

“The prime minister was updated ahead of time,” Gantz said. “He can think as he thinks. I’m doing my job.”

During a press conference Sunday, Bennett said he had given his “full approval” for last week’s meeting. “The defense minister spoke with me in advance and I didn’t see any reason to prohibit [the meeting], including the location,” he told reporters.

The prime minister said Gantz and Abbas discussed security and economic matters — not political issues — and reiterated his opposition to personally meeting with the PA chief.

Bennett is opposed to renewed peace negotiations with the Palestinians and has refused to meet with Abbas. Nevertheless, his government has pledged to prop up the Palestinian Authority and strengthen its ailing economy, with Gantz spearheading the move. Gantz has said he sees Abbas’s regime as the only alternative to an empowered Hamas in the West Bank.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Defense Minister Benny Gantz speak in the Knesset on September 2, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/ Flash90)

Gantz’s office announced several “confidence-building measures” following last week’s meeting.

These include approving the inclusion of 6,000 West Bank residents and 3,500 Gaza residents on a humanitarian basis in the PA’s resident registration; advancing the transfer of NIS 100 million ($32.2 million) in tax payments; and adding 600 BMC (businessman card) approvals for senior Palestinian businesspeople, as well as 500 permits for businesspeople with such approvals to enter Israel with their vehicles, and dozens of VIP permits for PA senior officials.

Gantz and Abbas also discussed additional construction plans for Palestinian homes, the defense minister’s office said.

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