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Lapid won’t rule out meeting with PA’s Abbas, but says it’s not on the agenda

After meeting Macron, PM tells reporters that he told French leader there would be no new settlements; slams incident at Western Wall

Prime Minister Yaïr Lapid with French President Emmanuel Macron at the Elysee palace in Paris, on July 5, 2022. (Amos Ben-Gershom / GPO)
Prime Minister Yaïr Lapid with French President Emmanuel Macron at the Elysee palace in Paris, on July 5, 2022. (Amos Ben-Gershom / GPO)

PARIS — Prime Minister Yair Lapid said Tuesday evening that while he would not rule out the possibility of a meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, there were currently no immediate plans for talks to take place.

“I do not have meetings for the sake of meetings unless they have a positive result for Israel. At the moment it is not on the agenda, but I do not rule it out,” Lapid said in a briefing at Israel’s embassy in Paris.

The premier, speaking to reporters after his meeting with President Emmanuel Macron, said that he had discussed Israel-Palestinian relations with the French leader.

“We spoke about the Palestinian issue,” said Lapid. “It wasn’t a a large part of the conversation.”

“The limits of what can be done given the current Palestinian leadership and Israel’s political unrest are clear to everyone,” he continued.

During public statements ahead of the bilateral meeting with Lapid, Macron stressed  the importance of reaching an agreement that recognizes the “legitimate aspirations” of the Palestinians. Lapid avoided the issue altogether in his remarks, focusing on the Iranian threat and Lebanon.

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, March 27, 2022, in Ramallah. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, Pool)

“The French have legitimate questions and there are disagreements about what should be done about the Palestinian issue, but they have an understanding of what the government can and cannot do,” Lapid said in the post-meeting briefing.

Macron also raised the matter of settlement construction with Lapid during the meeting.

Lapid said he told his French counterpart that while existing settlements would be allowed to expand, there would be no new settlements.

Lapid took over as premier last week as part of a power-sharing agreement with former prime minister Naftali Bennett that was triggered when the 24th Knesset voted to disband itself, calling elections for November 1.

While serving as foreign minister, Lapid met with senior Palestinian Authority official Hussein al-Sheikh on at least two occasions.

Prime Minister Yaïr Lapid makes a statement following his meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron at the Elysee palace in Paris, on July 5, 2022. (Ludovic MARIN / AFP)

Al-Sheikh is a close adviser to Abbas and the official responsible for managing Ramallah’s ties with Jerusalem. He has been rising in the ranks of the Palestinian Authority in recent months, sparking discussion over whether he might succeed the octogenarian Abbas.

However, Defense Minister Benny Gantz met with Abbas twice in recent months, including in Gantz’s residence in Rosh Ha’ayin. Both meetings were followed by Israeli announcements fulfilling some Palestinian requests.

Bennett is opposed to renewed peace negotiations with the Palestinians and refused to meet with Abbas.

Earlier this year, in comments regarding his then-expected rotation into the premiership in August 2023, Lapid stressed that he would not dramatically alter Bennett’s policy toward Ramallah.

France’s President Emmanuel Macron (L) and Prime Minister Yair Lapid speak at the Elysee Palace in Paris, July 5, 2022 (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Under the previous government, led by Benjamin Netanyahu, senior Israeli and Palestinian officials rarely met.

‘Violence at the Western Wall’

At the Paris briefing, Lapid was also asked about the incident at the Western Wall last week in which ultra-Orthodox extremists interrupted bar and bat mitzvah ceremonies at the site’s egalitarian plaza.

“The fact that there is violence at the Western Wall against people who want to pray according to their faith cannot continue,” the prime minister said.

“Israel is the only country in the Western world where Jews don’t have freedom of worship, which is unacceptable to me,” he said.

An ultra-Orthodox youth wipes his nose with a page torn from a siddur at the egalitarian section of the Western Wall on June 30, 2022. (Screen capture: Masorti movement on Twitter)

Last week, ultra-Orthodox extremists, most of them children or teenagers, disrupted three bar and bat mitzvah ceremonies at the egalitarian plaza of the Western Wall, shouting, calling the worshipers “Nazis,” “Christians” and “animals,” blowing whistles and ripping up prayer books.

US special envoy on antisemitism Deborah Lipstadt, visiting Israel, where she met with Lapid, said Tuesday she was “deeply disturbed” by the incident.

Lapid said he is a “big fan” of Lipstadt during the Tuesday briefing.

Aaron Boxerman and Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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