Abbas-Gantz Meeting Is 'Last Chance Before Explosion,' Palestinian Minister Says

President Abbas 'wouldn’t have come to the home of a former chief of staff of the Israeli military just for VIP passes' for senior officials, source says, stressing Palestinians now expect to see results on the ground

Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, in May.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, in May.Credit: Alex Brandon/AP
Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury

A Palestinian minister said on Wednesday that a rare meeting between President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz the day before was “the last chance before the explosion and finding ourselves at a dead end.”

Brushing off criticism over the meeting in Gantz's Rosh Ha'ayin home and the limited scope of its outcomes, Civil Affairs Minister Hussein al-Sheikh called it "a serious and bold attempt to a political path based on international legitimacy and an end to the escalation against Palestinians."

An Israeli statement said Gantz 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 and to issue 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.

Gantz also 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. The two also discussed the need to approve additional Palestinian master plans in the West Bank.

During their meeting – the first formal visit by the Palestinian president in Israel in more than a decade – Abbas and Gantz discussed diplomacy, a Palestinian source told Haaretz, but stressed that there is no expectation of the Palestinian side that any progress in peace talks with the Israelis would come about in the near future.

“We’re not talking about a breakthrough, but rather an effort to get things moving,” the source said. “[Abbas] wouldn’t have left Ramallah and come to the home of the defense minister and former chief of staff of the Israeli army to obtain more VIP passes and tens of millions of shekels, which is Palestinian money in any event,” the source added.

The visit was Abbas’ first official meeting with Israeli officials in Israel since 2010.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz and IDF Chief oF Staff Aviv Kochavi at a ceremony on the Gaza border, in December.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

The Palestinian official said Palestinians expect to see a change on the ground as a result of the meeting: “If there’s a halt to settler aggression, restraint over construction in the settlements, the advancement of [Palestinian] construction plans in Area C in addition to the advancement of economic steps, there’s no doubt that this would support the sense that something positive is happening.”

Area C is the portion of the West Bank where Israel has full civil and military control.

But the source warned that if such steps are not taken, “this entire meeting will backfire” for Abbas and the Palestinian Authority. Associates of the Palestinian president told Haaretz that prior to the meeting, the ground was laid and messages exchanged to ensure that it didn’t end up simply being technical in nature. The Palestinian president also coordinated his plans with Egypt and Jordan as well as with the Biden administration in Washington, they said.

The U.S. expressed its approval of the renewed coordination, with State Department Spokesman Ned Price calling on Twitter for both entities to "further advance freedom, security, and prosperity for Palestinians and Israelis alike."

The meeting was initially scheduled for last week, but Abbas demanded clarifications from Israel on several issues, including West Bank settler violence and Israel’s blacklisting of Palestinian NGOs, Israeli and Palestinian sources said.

Officials with Hamas and the Islamic Jihad were highly critical of Abbas over the meeting. Hamas spokesman Hazem Kassem called it “a stab in the back of the Palestinian people” and continued groveling on the part of the Palestinian leadership.

Islamic Jihad said it reflected what it said was the Palestinian Authority’s inappropriate role in doing Israel’s bidding as well as an attempt, “at the expense of the rights of the Palestinian people,” to extract the leaders of the Palestinian Authority from the crisis they have been facing.

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