Two left-wing Meretz ministers to meet with Abbas in Ramallah

Regional Cooperation Minister Issawi Frej confirms he and Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz will sit down with Palestinian leader next week, plays down potential impact of meeting

Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz, left, and Minister for Regional Cooperation Issawi Frej, right attend a Meretz faction meeting at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on July 12, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz, left, and Minister for Regional Cooperation Issawi Frej, right attend a Meretz faction meeting at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on July 12, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will meet with Israeli ministers Isawi Frej and Nitzan Horowitz next week in Ramallah, a spokesperson for Frej’s office confirmed Thursday.

Both ministers are from the left-wing Meretz party.

Frej told Army Radio the coalition agreement signed with right-wing and centrist parties does not prevent them from holding the meeting.

“We are in a government that agreed to disagree. We didn’t agree to not meet” the Palestinian leader, he said. “There is no need to get excited; we are still not solving the Palestinian problem.”

Abbas 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, headed by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, 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.

Horowitz met with his counterpart in the PA, Health Minister Mai al-Kaila, in late July. Frej has met with several senior PA officials.

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, of the right-wing Yamina party, opposes the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.

The coming meeting was called after Abbas last week sent invitations to Horowitz and Frej, according to a Channel 12 report.

The network, which did not cite a source, said the purpose of the meeting was to discuss politics, not Horowitz and Frej’s ministerial duties, thus putting Bennett in an uncomfortable spot as to whether to approve the meeting.

Regional Cooperation Minister Issawi Frej at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on July 14, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Bennett’s office said in response at the time that it had received no requests from the ministers to meet with Abbas.

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.

Gantz’s sit-down last month with Abbas in Ramallah was the first high-level face-to-face meeting between Israeli and Palestinian officials in over a decade.

Bennett has asserted he won’t follow suit, saying in an interview this month that he sees no reason to meet Abbas. 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 also reiterated his opposition to a Palestinian state, while voicing support for continued ties and connections with Palestinian officials in order to maintain calm and security coordination.

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.

Bennett leads a diverse coalition of right-wing nationalists, centrists, left-wing doves and an Islamist party.

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