Foreign Minister Yair Lapid reportedly met with Palestinian Authority General Intelligence chief Majed Faraj late last month as some members of the new government continue to expand their contacts with the PA leadership.
According to Hebrew media reports on Wednesday, the two discussed economic and security matters, namely the security coordination between Jerusalem and Ramallah, which has long been credited for maintaining relative calm in the West Bank.
Lapid and Faraj did not discuss diplomatic affairs, Haaretz reported, citing Israeli sources. This has become a main talking point from Jerusalem after meetings with PA officials in recent months, given Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s opposition to Palestinian statehood. However, PA readouts from such sit-downs, including last month’s meeting between PA President Mahmoud Abbas and Defense Minister Benny Gantz, insist that the sides discussed building a horizon to end the conflict.
Lapid said last week that he would have no problem meeting with Abbas if the political conditions justified such talks when he becomes prime minister under the rotation agreement in August 2023.
“It’s not on the agenda, but I won’t rule it out,” he said in a Zoom briefing with Israeli reporters. “There is no justification at this stage.”
At the same time, such talks would not deal with a diplomatic solution between the Israelis and Palestinians, as the current government’s policy of not holding final-status negotiations with the PA will remain in place, he stressed.
“I don’t think that five million Palestinians will disappear, but within the current political context, even after [I rotate in as prime minister], the coalition will be obligated to adhere to already reached agreements, and I will abide by every agreement that I made with my partners,” Lapid said, indicating that part of his agreement with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett upon forming a government was that neither of them would hold peace negotiations with the Palestinians.
The focus of the government in its ongoing contacts with PA officials revolves around security cooperation, improving the daily lives of Palestinians, and strengthening the Palestinian economy, he said.
The government is committed to not doing anything to torpedo the chances for diplomatic talks with the PA in the future, Lapid explained.
Lapid’s comments came as Gantz pushed back against criticism of his recent meeting with Abbas, vowing to continue meeting with the PA leader.
Gantz hosted Abbas at his home in Rosh Ha’ayin last month, 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.
Bennett said he had given his “full approval” for Gantz’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.
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 that he sees Abbas’s regime as the only alternative to an empowered Hamas in the West Bank.
Gantz’s office announced several “confidence-building measures” following the 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.