Defense Minister Benny Gantz met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on Thursday to discuss security coordination ahead of US President Joe Biden’s visit to Israel and the West Bank next week.
Israel’s security establishment has reportedly expressed concerns about the possibility of an escalation in the West Bank during Biden’s trip.
The meeting between Gantz and Abbas “was conducted on positive terms,” Gantz’s office said in a statement. The two discussed civilian cooperation and “the complexities of the upcoming period in Israel,” Gantz’s office said, apparently referring to the election cycle.
Gantz also wished Abbas and the Palestinian people a happy Eid al-Adha holiday, which begins tomorrow night.
“The two agreed to continue security coordination and to avoid unilateral measures,” Gantz’s office said.
Hussein al-Sheikh, a senior Palestinian aide, said Abbas “stressed the importance of creating a political horizon, respecting the signed agreements and stopping the actions and measures that lead to the deterioration of the situation.”
Abbas also stressed the importance of having a “calm atmosphere before President Biden’s visit, which we welcome,” al-Sheikh said.
The meeting lasted two hours and included other top Israeli security officials.
According to a Thursday Channel 12 report, Israel fears trouble in the West Bank because Biden is not expected to announce any major peace initiatives, which could spark unrest among the Palestinians.
Israeli security officials have reportedly instructed the Palestinian Authority to expand its operations in Jenin, seen as a hotbed of terrorist activity, the report said.
Biden administration staff began to arrive in Israel on Thursday, including military helicopters and armored vehicles that will be used to transport the president’s entourage.
A senior Israeli security official said Gantz had stressed to Abbas the need for maintaining peace and stability, and emphasized security coordination to prevent terrorism, which Gantz said was in the interest of both sides.
Gantz and Abbas also discussed ongoing economic measures for the Palestinians and the need to strengthen the Palestinian Authority, including by holding dialogue with the US and other countries in the region.
Gantz met with Abbas two other times in the past year, including in Gantz’s residence in Rosh Ha’ayin. Both meetings were followed by Israeli announcements fulfilling some Palestinian requests.
Gantz also said he saw a need to boost the Palestinian Authority and weaken its rival, the Hamas terror group, the official said.
On Tuesday, Abbas met Hamas terror chief Ismail Haniyeh in Algeria, the first meeting between the leaders of the groups in years.
The meeting potentially signaled new efforts to broker reconciliation talks between the warring factions. Neither leader’s office released details of their conversation.
The two major Palestinian parties — Abbas’s Fatah and the Islamist terror group Hamas — have been riven apart since a bloody civil war between the two sides in 2007. The rival groups have engaged in several unsuccessful attempts at reconciliation over the years.
Tensions are high between Israel and the Palestinians due to the killing of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, among other reasons. A US probe concluded on Monday that an Israeli soldier likely shot Abu Akleh unintentionally, irking both Israel and the Palestinians.
Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh claimed this week without any evidence that Israel was experimenting on the corpses of suspected Palestinian terrorists, prompting an angry response from the Foreign Ministry.
There have also been regular clashes between Israeli troops and Palestinians in the West Bank, after a series of deadly terror attacks against Israelis earlier this year.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Yair Lapid said he would not rule out meeting with Abbas, but said there were no plans for talks to take place.
Lapid is a moderate who supports a two-state solution, but as a caretaker prime minister in an election campaign, he has little ability to take any significant steps with the Palestinians or pass legislation.
Abbas has also been angry with the US administration in recent months over the perceived failure to roll back measures imposed by the Trump administration.
The US has pushed Israel to avoid taking any steps that would further damage ties with the Palestinians ahead of Biden’s visit, and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken highlighted American support for two states in a call with Lapid on Wednesday.