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Palestinian Authority’s Abbas warns Putin: West Bank poised for an ‘explosion’

PA president tells Russian leader in phone call that settlements, ‘settler terrorism’ causing growing anger, days after rare meeting inside Israel with Defense Minister Gantz

Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) shakes hands with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during their meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow, on February 12, 2018. (AFP Photo/Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentiev)
Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) shakes hands with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during their meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow, on February 12, 2018. (AFP Photo/Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentiev)

Israeli policies risk triggering an “explosion” in the West Bank, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said Thursday in a telephone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The Palestinian leader told Putin that Israeli settlements, home demolitions and “settler terrorism” were among factors leading to anger in the West Bank, the official Palestinian news agency Wafa said.

“The continuation of these Israeli measures will lead to an explosion of the situation,” Abbas told Putin.

Russia is a member of the Middle East Quartet of international mediators, along with the United Nations, the United States and European Union.

Abbas spoke with Putin two days after meeting with Defense Minister Benny Gantz at his home. Abbas’s visit was the first time the Palestinian leader held official talks with a senior Israeli official inside Israel since 2010. Months earlier, Gantz had visited Abbas in Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian Authority.

Following their meeting this week, the Defense Ministry announced “confidence-building measures” to ease the economic situation of the Palestinian Authority and reduce tensions in the West Bank.

The US praised the economic measures, but Abbas told Putin they were not enough, according to Wafa.

“Economic and security steps are not a substitute for the political track,” Abbas said, adding the Palestinian leadership will have to make “key decisions” at the central council of the Palestine Liberation Organization expected in the coming months.

Abbas’s conversation with Putin came amid rising tensions in the West Bank.

According to the Israeli army’s annual report, 100 attacks were carried out in 2021 against Israelis in the West Bank, up from 60 a year earlier. Palestinian gunmen killed a yeshiva student in the West Bank earlier this month and a Hamas terrorist killed a tour guide in Jerusalem last month.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs recorded 410 attacks by Israeli settlers against Palestinians in the first 10 months of 2021, compared to 358 in the whole of 2020.

Gantz’s office said he and Abbas discussed civilian and security measures Israel can take to strengthen the PA during the meeting this week, while the Palestinian readout said the sides stressed “the importance of creating a political horizon” to end the conflict.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz speaks at a ceremony on the first night the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah at the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City, on November 28, 2021. (Flash90)

Reporting details from the conversation on Wednesday, Israeli channels 12 and 13 quoted Abbas as telling Gantz that he would not support a return to violence in the West Bank, “even if a gun were held to my head.”

However, Abbas told Gantz he was concerned about violence erupting in Jerusalem, particularly surrounding the Temple Mount. Abbas told Gantz that if there was a change to religious elements on the holy site it would lead to an “unstoppable” escalation, Channel 13 reported.

During the meeting Abbas also reportedly asked Gantz to allow greater freedom of action for Palestinian security forces in the West Bank, vowing to crack down on any violence toward Israel. He also asked for the IDF to lower its profile in the West Bank where it has been carrying out a series of raids aimed at uprooting Hamas terror cells.

Gantz’s office announced several “confidence-building measures” following the meeting.

These include approving the inclusion of 6,000 West Bank residents and 3,500 Gaza residents to the PA’s resident registration on a humanitarian basis; 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.

Gantz and Abbas also discussed additional construction plans for Palestinian homes, the defense minister’s office said.

The meeting was sharply criticized by hawkish opposition parties, as well as by right-wing members of the coalition, which spans the Israeli political spectrum and has often made policy moves opposed by some of its constituents.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is opposed to renewed peace negotiations with the Palestinians and has refused to meet with Abbas. Nevertheless, his government has pledged to strengthen the PA and its ailing economy, with Gantz spearheading the move. Gantz has said he sees Abbas’s regime as the only alternative to an empowered Hamas terror group in the West Bank.

Senior representatives of the US, EU, UN and other countries hailed the rare meeting between Gantz and Abbas.

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