Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas met on Sunday night with Israeli ministers Nitzan Horowitz and Isawi Frej from the left-wing Meretz party in Ramallah, in the second such high profile meeting in recent months.
Health Minister Horowitz said his party was working to “keep the two-state solution alive” within Israel’s current government, which is headed by the right-wing Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.
“Do not let it disappear, and do not sabotage the chance of reaching it in the future, because there is no other solution,” Horowitz said following the meeting with Abbas.
The comments highlight the ambivalent attitude toward the Palestinians among the diverse members of Israel’s ruling coalition, which includes right-wing, centrist, and left-wing Zionist parties and the Islamist Ra’m party.
Abbas appeared to acknowledge this, saying he was prepared to meet with all members of the coalition, inviting them to Ramallah
“We must begin to create confidence-building measures, to prove that we intend to make peace, and to enable me to protect the hope of the Palestinian people. If we lose hope, we lose the future,” a statement by Meretz quoted Abbas as saying.
“You don’t have to agree, you have to talk,” Abbas said.
Bennett has said he has no plans to meet Abbas, and Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, from Bennett’s right-wing Yamina party, fired back on Twitter that she would not consider meeting with “a Holocaust denier who is suing Israeli soldiers at the Hague,” a reference to the ongoing investigation at the International Criminal Court.
Hebrew media said that Abbas specifically asked the ministers to convey his invitation to Shaked.
Abbas has disputed that six million Jews were killed during the Holocaust and once blamed Jews, rather than anti-Semitism, for the genocide. He later apologized for the latter remark.
The PA leader rarely met with Israeli ministers for several years during the previous administration of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which saw ties with the Palestinians grow increasingly strained.
But officials in the new government have pledged to strengthen Abbas’s unpopular government. Defense Minister Benny Gantz, of the Blue and White party, met with Abbas in Ramallah in August before announcing a string of initiatives to aid the PA. That was the first meeting of a senior Israeli leader that Abbas had hosted in a decade.
Horowitz and Frej, the regional development minister, are among the most dovish members of the diverse coalition. Meretz parliamentarian Michal Rozin also attended the meeting.
Abbas was joined by senior PA officials Hussein al-Sheikh, who handles coordination with Israel, and intelligence chief Majed Faraj. Mahmoud al-Habbash, who advises Abbas on religious affairs, also joined the meeting.
In a statement following the meeting, Abbas’s office said the PA leader had stressed the importance of ending Israeli rule over the Palestinians, as well as saying that Israel must end demolitions of Palestinian homes, as well as its controversial policy of holding the bodies of Palestinians killed while committing what Israel says were terror attacks.
According to Meretz, Abbas also thanked Horowitz for his assistance amid the pandemic. “We live together. When the Palestinians are free of the coronavirus, the Israelis will be free and vice versa,” Abbas said.
Frej has been pushing for the expansion of ties between Israel and the Palestinian Authority since taking office in June and has organized a number of high-level contacts between Israeli and PA officials. Horowitz met with his counterpart in the PA, Health Minister Mai al-Kaila, in late July, in a meeting organized by Frej.
“We’re here to advance the two-state solution, to say that you are our partner. The future is important, we must first work to make our present better,” Frej said in a statement after the meeting.
Bennett, however, has been clear that there will be no return to the peace process under the current government. A longtime champion of the settlement movement, Bennett opposes the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.
After Gantz’s meeting with Abbas, Bennett asserted he would not do likewise. The premier cited the PA’s pursuit of war crimes charges against Israel at the International Criminal Court (ICC) and continued payment of monthly stipends to security prisoners, including those convicted of killing Israelis.
Bennett has also reiterated his opposition to a Palestinian state, although he voiced continue support for relations with Ramallah in order to crack down on Palestinian terror groups in the West Bank.
Both Bennett and Abbas addressed the UN General Assembly over the past week. The prime minister made no mention of the Palestinians in his speech, while Abbas demanded Israel withdraw to the 1967 lines within a year or face repercussions.