Gantz Says Agreed With Abbas on Confidence-building Measures, Including $155m Loan

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Defense Minister Benny Gantz, last month.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz, last month. Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas have agreed to several steps aimed at easing the Palestinian Authority’s financial woes and improving security coordination with Israel, Gantz said on Monday.

The two agreed at their meeting Sunday night to grant residency rights to thousands of people living in the West Bank with no legal status. They also agreed that Israel will give the Palestinian Authority 500 million shekels ($155 million) as an advance on the taxes Israel collects on the PA’s behalf.

Gantz, in a briefing with reporters, said the people to be granted residency rights in the West Bank will include both Palestinians from the Gaza Strip and people from other countries who are married to West Bank residents. Criteria will be set to determine who will receive legal status and the only people eligible will be older adults, he added.

As for the advance, it will be repaid starting in June 2022 via deductions from the taxes Israel collects for the PA. These taxes come out to around nine billion shekels ($2.8 billion) a year.

Gantz also reiterated the government’s promise to issue permits for another 15,000 Palestinians to work in Israel. In addition, he said, he agreed that Israel would issue 1,000 construction permits for Palestinian residents of Area C, the part of the West Bank that the Oslo Accords assigned to full Israeli control.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in May. Credit: Mohamad Torokman / Reuters

Abbas’ meeting with Gantz was his first official meeting with any Israeli cabinet minister since 2010. Gantz said the goal of the meeting wasn’t to advance the diplomatic process, but rather to build confidence between Israel and the PA and strengthen ties.

“The stronger the Palestinian Authority is, the weaker Hamas will be,” Gantz said. “And the greater its ability to govern is, the more security we’ll have and the less we’ll have to do.”

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri on Monday called Sunday night's meeting a "dangerous step." He also said it was disrespectful and proves that the PA is more concerned with maintaining security coordination with Israel than supporting the national Palestinian interest.

The Islamic Jihad also condemned the meeting, and accused the PA of turning its back on the national Palestinian consensus by meeting with "the Zionist enemy."

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett returned from a visit to Washington, D.C. on Sunday night, and was notified about the meeting in advance.

A source close to Bennett said "there is no diplomatic process with the Palestinians, nor will there be one." The source added that "the meeting between Gantz and Abu Mazen [Abbas] was approved in advance by the prime minister. The meeting covered routine issues between the defense establishment and the Palestinian Authority." 

On Friday, during Bennett's meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden, the Israeli prime minister clarified that Israel has no intention of advancing a diplomatic process with the Palestinians due to the current political circumstances. But due to this situation, he added, he is eager to advance fiscal measures with the Palestinian Authority, which is suffering from an economic crisis.

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