Israel's Defense Minister Benny Gantz hosted on Tuesday Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for a working meeting at his home to discuss economic and security issues.
The meeting in Rosh Ha'ayin, confirmed by Gantz's office, was Abbas' first formal meeting in Israel since 2010, and the second with Gantz under the current Israeli government, after an August meeting in Ramallah.
Their meeting comes about a week after U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan visited the region and called on Israeli officials to do more on the situation in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
The meeting was initially scheduled for last week, but Abbas had demanded clarifications from Israel on settler violence and blacklisting of Palestinian NGOs. Sources familiar with preparations for the Abbas-Gantz meeting said Sullivan's visit, as well as growing Egyptian ties with the Palestinian Authority, helped facilitate the meeting.
Palestinian Minister Hussein al-Sheikh said Gantz and Abbas discussed the “importance of creating a political horizon,” for the solution of the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“We discussed the implementation of economic and civilian measures, and emphasized the importance of deepening security coordination and preventing terror and violence – for the well-being of both Israelis and Palestinians,” Gantz said on Twitter.
The meeting lasted for about two and a half hours and was also attended by Israel's Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Maj. Gen. Rassan Aliyan, Palestinian Civil Affairs Minister al-Sheikh and Majed Faraj, head of the PA's security service.
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Gantz and Abbas also met in private and agreed on a series of economic concessions that Israel would provide to the Palestinian Authority, officials said.
According to an Israeli statement, Gantz agreed to grant residency rights to 6,000 people living in the West Bank with no legal status and 3,500 in the Gaza Strip. Israel has also agreed to give the Palestinian Authority 100 million shekels ($32 million) as an advance on the taxes Israel collects on the Palestinian Authority’s behalf.
Israel will also give hundreds of permits for Palestinian businesspeople to let them move relatively freely between the West Bank and Israel, and dozens of so-called VIP passes for senior Palestinian Authority officials.
An Israeli official said Gantz called on Abbas to do more to prevent a flare-up of violence in the West Bank, and Abbas told the Israeli minister that more has to be done to stop settler violence. Gantz, according to the official, told Abbas that most settlers are not the problem, but that he was working to ensure stricter punishments for racist crimes.
A Palestinian official told Haaretz that Abbas also asked Gantz to revoke the designation of six leading human rights and civil society groups as terrorist organizations.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett opposes Palestinian independence and has ruled out formal peace talks. But he has said he wants to reduce frictions with the Palestinian Authority and improve living conditions in the West Bank.
President Isaac Herzog called the meeting "positive," stressing that "security coordination is a crucial part of the fight against terrorism."
Some right-wing lawmakers criticized Gantz for the meeting, with opposition leader Benjamain Netanyahu's Likud party said “Dangerous concessions... are only a matter of time.”
Far-right Religious Zionism party said in a statement that “after 10 years in which the right has successfully made Abbas irrelevant and a persona non grata around the world,” the current government is “bringing him back to center stage.”
Zeev Elkin, of Gideon Sa'ar's New Hope party and a member of cabinet, said ministers were not notified of the meeting in advance. He told 103FM radio: “I would not invite to my home someone who pays salaries to murderers of Israelis or wants to put senior IDF officers in jail in The Hague – including the host [Gantz] himself.”
Minister Nitzan Horowitz, head of the left-wing Meretz party, welcomed the meeting and said on Twitter: “Strengthening ties and moving toward a political solution” are of utmost important to both peoples.