Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Monday defended his talks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, as the government survived a no-confidence motion over the meetings.
Gantz told the Knesset that all Israeli governments have maintained ties with the PA since its was established by the 1993 Oslo Accords, despite the “deep and difficult disagreements” with Ramallah, noting it has long been “the legitimate and recognized leadership” of the Palestinians.
“The years-long weakening of the Palestinian Authority and the concealment of relations strengthened Hamas, harmed Israeli security, and failed in terms of results,” he said.
He appeared to swipe at opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, suggesting the former prime minister was less than forthcoming about his governments’ ties with the Palestinian Authority in past years.
“Unlike those who have talks under the table, I chose to hold them openly in Ramallah and Rosh Ha’ayin — to coordinate, to work together, to strengthen the economy and also to ask for concessions,” Gantz said of the meetings, which were held under media blackout and only announced after the fact.
He argued that boosting ties with the PA “while maintaining our principles” would improve Israel’s diplomatic and security relations with other countries.
“Even if we close our eyes and say the Palestinians don’t interest anyone, reality has again and again proven otherwise,” he said. “Even if they don’t interest the world, our relations with the Palestinians are critical for our security, the future of our children, and how our country will look.”
The defense minister acknowledged that there was no peace talks push underway, but said, “We have to keep in contact to allow for a diplomatic horizon.”
Gantz has met with Abbas twice since the current government’s formation in June, mostly recently in late December when he hosted the PA chief at his home.
The meetings were 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.
Gantz has previously pushed back at the criticism, saying “the need to maintain Israel’s security” was the main focus of his meeting with Abbas, along with countering Gaza’s Hamas rulers.
Also Monday, Abbas spoke by phone with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, according to the PA.
“They discussed the latest developments in the region,” senior PA official Hussein al-Sheikh wrote on Twitter.
According to a statement carried by the PA’s official Wafa news agency, Blinken denounced a recent raft of settler violence and reiterated the Biden administration’s commitment to reopening the US consulate in Jerusalem, a campaign pledge that has been effectively shelved amid Israeli opposition.
A readout of the call from the US State Department made no mention of settler violence or the consulate.
They discussed the importance of strengthening the US relationship with the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian people, as well as the need to improve quality of life for Palestinians in tangible ways. They also discussed the challenges facing the Palestinian Authority and the need for reform,” it said.
“Secretary Blinken reiterated that Israelis and Palestinians alike deserve to live safely and securely, and enjoy equal measures of security, freedom, and prosperity, and reaffirmed the US administration’s commitment to a two-state solution.”