Foreign Minister Yair Lapid met with senior Palestinian Authority official Hussein al-Sheikh on Sunday night, in the latest in a string of meetings between senior Israeli and Palestinian officials.
“I met this evening with Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and we discussed several political and bilateral issues. I highlighted the need for a political horizon between the two parties based on international law,” al-Sheikh announced in a statement.
Lapid’s office did not deny the reports, but declined to comment on the meeting.
Al-Sheikh is one of PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s closest advisers and directs the PA office responsible for handling ties with Israel. A longtime senior Fatah official, al-Sheikh was promoted last week to fill a seat on the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Executive Committee.
The move was seen by some observers as preparing al-Sheikh to be the next chief negotiator with Israel, a position vacant since the death of former senior PLO official Saeb Erekat.
Under the previous government, led by Benjamin Netanyahu, senior Israeli and Palestinians officials rarely met. But the current coalition is made up of centrist and left-wing, as well as right-wing, politicians who have established contacts with their Palestinian Authority counterparts.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz has met with PA President Mahmoud Abbas twice, including in the former’s residence in Rosh HaAyin. Both meetings were followed by Israeli announcements fulfilling some Palestinian requests.
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.
Lapid is set to replace Bennett as prime minister in 2023, according to coalition agreements. In comments to reporters in early January, however, Lapid stressed that he would not dramatically alter the current policy toward Ramallah.
“Even after [I rotate in as prime minister], the coalition will be obligated to already-reached agreements, and I will abide by every agreement that I made with my partners,” Lapid said, adding that part of his agreement with Bennett was that neither would hold peace negotiations with the Palestinians.
Lapid did stress, however, that he would consider meeting with Abbas.
After his Sunday meeting with Lapid, al-Sheikh said that 500 undocumented West Bank residents would receive Palestinian identification cards. That appeared to be a continuation of a previous pledge by Gantz, rather than a new initiative.
Hamas slammed the meeting as a sign of “the depths to which the Palestinian Authority has fallen.”
“The persistence of these absurd meetings with the occupation’s leadership is a betrayal of the sacrifices of our people. These shameful meetings must end immediately,” said the terror group’s spokesperson Abd al-Latif al-Qanou.