In one of his last acts as defense minister, Benny Gantz phoned Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday evening to discuss Israel’s security cooperation with the Palestinians, according to his office.
The outgoing defense minister “emphasized the important ties” between Israel and the PA and told Abbas “it is critical to maintain an open channel of communication and coordination,” Gantz’s office said.
Gantz also told Abbas that “measures taken against Israel in international forums,” including those being advanced by the PA, “will harm the Palestinian people and will only further alienate any political process in the future,” the statement added.
Gantz is set to be replaced by Likud MK Yoav Gallant in the coming days, once Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing government is sworn in.
Gantz was the main point of contact between Israel and the Palestinian leader since the now-outgoing government took power in 2021. He first spoke on the phone with Abbas in mid-July 2021. The two formally met in Ramallah in late August, marking the first such high-level contact between senior Israeli and Palestinian decision-makers in over a decade.
Since then, Gantz has met the aging PA president several times over the past year and a half, most recently in July to discuss security coordination ahead of US President Joe Biden’s visit to Israel and the West Bank.
The meetings and calls have come under fire by right-wing lawmakers, now members of the incoming government. Gantz has defended his meetings with Abbas by arguing that they were crucial for security reasons, adding that both he and Abbas believe in maintaining security ties in order to stabilize the region.
The incoming government, however, will see far-right lawmakers in key positions tied to Israel’s relations with the Palestinians,
Bezalel Smotrich, the head of the ultra-nationalist Religious Zionism party, who backs Israeli sovereignty throughout the West Bank without equal rights for Palestinians, is being granted wide-ranging authority over the civil affairs of Jewish settlers and Palestinians in the territory.
Itamar Ben Gvir, head of the ideologically similar Otzma Yehudit, has been given the role of national security minister, with unprecedented authority over the police, including the Border Police West Bank division.
In a rare public interview last month following Israel’s elections, Abbas said Netanyahu was “not a man who believes in peace” with the Palestinians but that he’d be forced “to deal with him” even if the prospects for peace talks are minimal.