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Lapid won’t rule out meeting Abbas, but says no reason to do so right now

Foreign minister stresses that full diplomatic talks will not take place when he becomes premier, but discussions with PA on security and the economy will continue

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (right) and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid speak at the Knesset, on September 2, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (right) and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid speak at the Knesset, on September 2, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said Monday that he would have no problem meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas if the political conditions justified such talks.

“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 when he becomes prime minister in August 2023, 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.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid speaks during a Yesh Atid faction meeting at the Knesset, on October 25, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Lapid’s comments came as Defense Minister Benny Gantz pushed back Monday against criticism of his recent meeting with Abbas, vowing to continue meeting with the PA leader.

“I heard the criticism and again say, it’s the one who sends soldiers into battle who’s responsible for doing everything to prevent it,” Gantz said during a faction meeting of his Blue and White party.

Gantz hosted Abbas at his home in Rosh Ha’ayin last week, 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.

Gantz was also asked if he had sought approval from Bennett to meet with Abbas or had updated him about the meeting.

From left: Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File) Right: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, Pool, File)

“The prime minister was updated ahead of time,” Gantz said. “He can think as he thinks. I’m doing my job.”

During a press conference Sunday, Bennett said he had given his “full approval” for last week’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 last week’s 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.

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