Netanyahu dispatched Shin Bet chief in bid to renew ties with Abbas — report

PA chief said to have rejected economic incentives offered by Nadav Argaman in series of recent meetings with West Bank Palestinian officials

Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas speaks to the press after meeting French President Emmanuel Macron at the Elysee Palace in Paris on September 21, 2018. (AFP Photo/Ludovic Marin)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas speaks to the press after meeting French President Emmanuel Macron at the Elysee Palace in Paris on September 21, 2018. (AFP Photo/Ludovic Marin)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been seeking to renew political ties with the Palestinian Authority in recent months, and for the purpose dispatched the head of the Shin Bet security agency to offer PA President Mahmoud Abbas an economic incentive package, Hadashot news reported Thursday.

During their meeting in Ramallah, Nadav Argaman told Abbas that Israel was prepared to set up a joint industrial area and open up gas production off the Gaza coast, according to the network, which said Abbas rebuffed both offers.

The report did not specify when the meeting took place, but said it came amid a series of meetings Argaman held with senior PA officials in recent months in which he stressed the Palestinian economy would benefit from renewed contact with Israeli leaders.

Netanyahu’s efforts to reestablish ties with the PA came following warnings of growing instability in the Wast Bank and Gaza from IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot.

Netanyahu and Abbas have had little contact since the collapse of peace talks in 2014. The two last met in September 2016 at the funeral of former president Shimon Peres, where their polite handshake was seen as a momentous and even controversial event.

Relations have worsened further since the PA cut ties with the US over President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December 2018, and his decision to move the US embassy there.

Israel and the PA continue to maintain security ties between forces on the ground. Though PA officials have repeatedly threatened to cut these as relations deteriorate, they have so far refrained from doing so.

Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman attends a Knesset Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee meeting on March 20, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In recent weeks, Abbas has thwarted a series of internationally backed initiatives aimed at rehabilitating the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

Egyptian mediators have been working intensively for months to broker a Hamas-Israel ceasefire, and also bring about national reconciliation between the PA and Hamas, which seized Gaza by force from the Ramallah government in 2007.

Two senior Palestinian officials said last month that Abbas has been working behind the scenes to scuttle UN and Egyptian attempts to reach a ceasefire agreement or to carry out large infrastructure projects that would bring relief to Gaza’s beleaguered population.

As the officially recognized Palestinian representative, Abbas’s government continues to coordinate the movement of goods through Israeli-controlled crossings into Gaza, which gives him the ability to block large-scale projects, even when approved by Israel.

Abbas maintains there can be no progress on Palestinian reconciliation until he regains control of Gaza. Attempts to reconcile with Hamas have repeatedly failed, leaving the Palestinians divided between rival governments in the West Bank and Gaza.

Earlier this week, Egyptian intelligence officials arrived in Gaza for the latest round of ceasefire talks amid reports that Hamas was demanding that Israel transfer $15 million in Qatari aid each month, skirting the PA, in exchange for quiet along the border.

The Haaretz daily reported Wednesday that Israel agreed to transfer the funds to Hamas after it negotiated with Qatar directly and received assurances it would only be used to pay the salaries of civil servants.

Netanyahu this week said he welcomed mediation from the United Nations and Egypt to prevent a humanitarian collapse in the Gaza Strip.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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