Defense Minister Benny Gantz hosted Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at his home in Rosh Ha’ayin on Tuesday night. It marked the first time the Palestinian leader held talks with a senior Israeli official in Israel since 2010.
The meeting was Gantz and Abbas’s second since the new Israeli government was formed in June. According to the Defense Ministry, it lasted two and a half hours; part of it was Abbas and Gantz alone.
“The defense minister emphasized the shared interest in strengthening security cooperation, preserving security stability, and preventing terrorism and violence,” Gantz’s office said in a statement.
Gantz also told Abbas that he intended to continue advancing “confidence-building measures in civil and economic fields,” according to the Defense Ministry.
Israel’s military liaison to the Palestinians Ghassan Alian, widely known by his position’s acronym COGAT, also participated in the meeting on the Israeli side.
Key Abbas adviser Hussein al-Sheikh, the Palestinian official responsible for managing ties with Israel, accompanied Abbas, along with Palestinian intelligence chief Majed Faraj.
This evening I met with PA President, Mahmoud Abbas. We discussed the implementation of economic and civilian measures, and emphasized the importance of deepening security coordination and preventing terror and violence – for the well-being of both Israelis and Palestinians.
— בני גנץ – Benny Gantz (@gantzbe) December 28, 2021
Al-Sheikh said that the two had discussed political questions and settler violence, among other subjects.
“The meeting dealt with the importance of creating a political horizon that leads to a political solution… as well as the tense conditions in the field due to the practices of settlers,” al-Sheikh said in a tweet.
Recent weeks have seen a spike in Palestinian terror attacks. There has also been a rise in settler violence against Palestinians.
Prime Minister Naftali 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.
“If the Palestinian Authority is stronger, Hamas will be weaker. When the Palestinian Authority has more ability to enforce order, there will be more security, and our hand will be forced less,” Gantz said in late August.
The current Israeli government, to that end, has loaned the Palestinian Authority NIS 500 million to ease its crippling debt crisis; provided permits to undocumented Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza; and increased the number of permits for Palestinians to work in Israel in an effort to pump the West Bank economy.
Gantz first spoke on the phone with Abbas in mid-July. 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.
The opposition Likud party criticized the Tuesday night meeting in Israel, saying that “the Israeli-Palestinian government of Bennett is returning (Abbas) and the Palestinians to center stage” and warned that “it’s only a matter of time until there are dangerous concessions to the Palestinians.”
Hamas, the terrorist group that rules Gaza, slammed Abbas for meeting with Gantz, calling it “reprehensible and condemnable.”
“This is an attack on the uprising taking place in the West Bank,” said terror group spokesperson Hazim Qasim, in an apparent reference to a spate of recent attacks on Israeli soldiers and civilians.
Abbas’s last official meeting in Israel took place in 2010 when he met then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu at his official residence for peace talks. The peace process has been largely moribund in the last decade with Netanyahu working to undermine Abbas and push the conflict with the Palestinians to the margins.
Abbas also traveled to Jerusalem for the 2016 funeral of Israeli statesman Shimon Peres.