Unlike His Ministers, Bennett Has Not Spoken to President Abbas Since Taking Office

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at a ceremony at the President's Residence in Jerusalem on Wednesday.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at a ceremony at the President's Residence in Jerusalem on Wednesday.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has not spoken with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas since taking office in June, and his office said he currently has no plans to do so.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid also has not yet talked with Abbas. But some other ministers have done so, as has President Isaac Herzog.

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Bennett, who heads the right-wing Yamina party, was never expected to be enthusiastic about speaking with Abbas. But Herzog has already spoken with him twice since taking office earlier this month – once when Abbas called to congratulate him immediately after his inauguration, and once at the beginning of this week, when Herzog called to wish the Palestinian leader a happy Eid al-Adha holiday.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev – both of whom have portfolios that involve considerable friction with the Palestinian population – also called to wish Abbas a happy holiday this week. Bar-Lev’s office said he used Thursday’s call to discuss the need for open communication between them “for the sake of both people’s peace and security.” Gantz’s office said the defense minister, who called earlier this week, raised the need for confidence-building measures “that would help the entire region’s security and economy.”

Dealing with the PA is a challenge for the current government due to its members’ fear of anything that could upset its fragile coalition between leftist and rightist parties. Israel has therefore informed the U.S. administration that it won’t advance any controversial moves before the budget is passed this autumn, since if the budget doesn’t pass, the government will automatically fall.

Last month, Haaretz reported on a list of around 30 steps that the PA had asked Washington to persuade Israel to take in order to restore the government powers of the Palestinian Authority, improve the Palestinian economy and address the quality of life of individual Palestinians. “Not all of the proposals appearing in the document can be implemented at the present time, but if it were possible even to advance some of these measures, at least in the civilian field, that would provide achievements to the Palestinian public and improve their day-to-day lives,” a source familiar with the document said at the time.

President Mahmoud Abbas with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul two weeks ago.Credit: Murat Cetinmuhurdar / Reuters

One section of the document includes a number of civilian-sector projects – increasing the number of Israeli work permits issued to Palestinians, permitting family reunification and regulating construction in Palestinian towns and villages to accommodate natural population growth.

On the economic front, the Palestinian Authority is seeking to boost the issuance of visitors’ permits to tourism sites in areas under Palestinian Authority control and to develop new tourist projects, including religious tourism in portions of the West Bank under full Israeli control (Area C) and in the Dead Sea region.

The document also suggested that the Palestinian Authority be given direct authorization to import fuel from Jordan through the construction of a fuel pipeline running from there, as well as other pipeline facilities running from ports in Israel to the Palestinian Authority.

In addition, the proposal sought to expand the Palestinian Authority’s capacity to export goods, the establishment of a free-trade zone within its territory and the issuance of construction permits for power plants and green energy projects.

The proposal also detailed a series of steps to restore the Palestinian Authority’s diplomatic standing, including the restoration of the status quo on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount (without describing would that would involve), the reopening of Palestinian institutions in East Jerusalem that Israel had shut down and the suspension of construction in West Bank settlements (as well as in East Jerusalem). Also proposed is the evacuation of unauthorized West Bank Jewish outposts and preventing Israeli control of land in Area A (the portion of the territory under Palestinian civil and security control).

Moreover, the document called for the release of Palestinian prisoners by Israel in accordance with the fourth stage of a plan already worked out by Israel and the Palestinians that was suspended in 2014. Priority would be given to older and younger prisoners as well as female prisoners. There is also a demand to expand the authority of the Palestinian police by again permitting them to carry weapons that they have not been allowed to carry in recent years.

It was also proposed to the Biden administration that an international airport be established in the West Bank and that Palestinian officials again be permitted to staff the Allenby Bridge border crossing point between the West Bank and Jordan. The document also suggested a return of the bodies being held by Israel of Palestinians who were killed in a variety of circumstances in clashes with Israeli security forces.

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