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World cheers Gantz-Abbas meeting, hopes for continued cooperation in 2022

While Jerusalem says sit-down focused on civilian and security issues, global leaders seek discussion of core political disagreements as well

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. (AP/Collage)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. (AP/Collage)

Senior representatives of the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and various countries around the world hailed the rare meeting Tuesday between Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the former’s house in Rosh Ha’ayin.

“The US is very pleased Defense Minister (Gantz) hosted PA President Abbas at his home in Israel. We hope confidence-building measures discussed will accelerate momentum to further advance freedom, security, and prosperity for Palestinians and Israelis alike in 2022,” tweeted US State Department spokesman Ned Price on Wednesday, making use of a favorite Biden administration talking point for its policy on the Palestinian conflict.

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

Many of the world leaders who weighed in appeared to prefer the latter interpretation of the meeting.

The EU’s Special Representative for the Middle East Peace Process Sven Koopmans tweeted that he was glad to see reports of the meeting. “Urgent, substantive and structural measures are needed for the benefit of Palestinians and Israelis; therefore investing in personal relationships is necessary and inherently positive,” he said.

The UN’s Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Tor Wennesland wrote that the sit-down “was a timely and encouraging step. High-level dialogue is essential for addressing the urgent security and economic challenges and charting a path back to dealing with key political issues.”

Norway’s special envoy for the Middle East Peace Process Tor Wennesland, left. during a meeting with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh in Ramallah in June 2020 (WAFA)

Germany’s Foreign Office tweeted, “Personal contacts & talks about confidence-building measures are crucial for further cooperation & to reduce tension. We hope 2022 sees more progress on this path, which Germany is ready to support.”

Abbas’s visit was the first time the Palestinian leader held talks with a senior Israeli official inside Israel since 2010. The meeting was Gantz and Abbas’s second since the new Israeli government was formed in June, with the first taking place in Ramallah last August.

Reporting details from the conversation on Wednesday, Israel’s 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.

Citing Palestinian sources, the Kan public broadcaster said Gantz thanked Abbas for the PA’s role in rescuing two Israelis from Ramallah earlier this month after they lost their way and were surrounded by a Palestinian mob. Abbas added that friction must be lowered between settlers and Palestinians in the West Bank.

The meeting was sharply criticized by hawkish opposition parties, as well as by right-wing members of the coalition, which spans the Israeli spectrum from hawk to dove and also includes an Islamist party, and has often made policy moves opposed by some of its constituents.

Kan reported, without citing a source, that Bennett was informed of the meeting ahead of time, and “criticized Gantz’s intention to hold the meeting, and expressed resentment about the hosting of [Abbas] in Gantz’s home.”

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 in the West Bank.

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 on a humanitarian basis in the PA’s resident registration; 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.

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