The cosmic event that was dubbed “Gantz’s meeting with Mahmoud Abbas,” the first of its kind in the past 10 years, left a trail of dust behind. A loan of half a billion shekels, an “arrangement” for thousands of families lacking permanent status, about 1,000 building permits in Area C and about 15,000 additional work permits. This package was wrapped in a rustling cellophane wrapping to which the note “confidence-building measures” was attached, and these measures were designed to strengthen the Palestinian Authority against Hamas.
Who will be the happy families who will attain family reunification and residency status? Previous experience has taught that the process is long and exhausting, the criteria are unclear, the decisions are arbitrary and depend on the approval of the Shin Bet security service, of course, although many of the applicants have been living in the West Bank for years with tourist status. Israel, in any case, will not waive its total control of Palestinian demographics in the territories.
LISTEN: How PM Bennett humiliated Abbas upon returning from Biden meeting
The Palestinians heard the news of the construction of 1,000 housing units in Area C in early August, from Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. This isn’t a gift, since at the same time Israeli will advance the construction of 2,200 housing units in the settlements. Nor are additional work visas anything new. The government decided on that on August 1, mainly due to the shortage of construction workers in Israel. Abbas had already read this exciting news in the Israeli media outlets, he didn’t need a postman to open the box of goodies and display its contents.
If Defense Minister Benny Gantz thinks that the very fact that he met with Abbas testifies to the depth of the trust that is gradually being built with Abbas, we should remind him that he could have held such a meeting earlier, when he was defense minister under Benjamin Netanyahu. Nor did anyone prevent him from visiting Abbas in honor of Eid al-Adha (the Feast of Sacrifice) in July, rather than making do with a friendly phone call.
The bone that Gantz threw to Abbas cannot be a basis for renewed trust between the sides, as long as Palestinian residents can expect nighttime visits from soldiers; Israel Defense Forces soldiers help the settlers to build illegal outposts; the IDF investigation and enforcement mechanisms support every shooting incident, even when innocent civilians are killed; houses and agricultural terraces are destroyed recklessly; and the residents cannot move freely between the various districts of the West Bank and between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
The steps taken by Gantz and Bennett are in effect designed to build confidence with Joe Biden’s administration. In exchange for a freeze on the entire diplomatic process and for U.S. acquiescence to refrain from implementation of the two-state solution – Israel will return to the idea of an economic peace, or will offer a faded copy of Trump’s deal of the century.
Biden, who began his term by resuming aid to the Palestinian Authority and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), but did not propose a vision for solving the conflict or an initiative to renew negotiations, thereby became an excellent partner to the government headed by Bennett, who asserted: “We won’t annex territories, and we won’t establish a Palestinian state.” With such a slogan it’s impossible to build confidence with the Palestinians, and it’s definitely impossible to strengthen the PA against Hamas.
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Here lies Gantz’s main bluff, to the effect that “The stronger the PA, the weaker Hamas, and the more governance it has, the more security, and we won’t have to be as active.” Really? If Gantz thinks that half a billion shekels, as a loan (not even a grant), or construction permits for 1,000 apartments, will turn Abbas into the ruler of Gaza and the master of Hamas, he is suffering from a much more serious problem than a lack of understanding. He hasn’t learned a thing.
If, on the other hand, he knows that there’s no hope of that, and still continues to sell this empty package, that means he believes that the public is stupid. We can understand the political threat that is paralyzing this government and denying it the ability to deal with the conflict for fear of its life, but why lie?