The meeting between Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, held at Gantz’s home, is an important step in the right direction. This is especially so considering the nadir that relations with the Palestinians reached during the long years of Benjamin Netanyahu’s term as prime minister. After turning its back on the Palestinians, Israel signed the Abraham Accords and pushed peace with them to the bottom of the national agenda. All along the way, Netanyahu made sure to maintain informal relations with Hamas – threats, relief, fighting, reconstruction – while working to humiliate Abbas, the Palestinian leader who had chosen the path of non-violent diplomatic struggle to end the occupation.
The message is clear: Israel rewards power and ignores diplomacy, which is perceived as a show of weakness. The goal is also clear: to remove the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from the national and international agenda; to cast the two-state solution into the trash heap of history; to foster a split in the Palestinian leadership, so it will not be able to designate any leader as representing the entire Palestinian people; and to encourage violent conflict with Israel to prove to the world that the Palestinians do not want peace and that, unlike the Israelis, they sanctify death.
The cost of this rejectionist policy, humiliation, deceptiveness and political miserliness is paid by the Palestinians, but not only by them. The inhabitants of southern Israel have been sacrificed on the altar of Israeli victimization to provide the government with the excuse to continue its rejectionist policy. In recent years, other parts of the country have also experienced the routine of missile attacks, sirens and bomb shelters. Meanwhile, Israel has expanded the settlements and sowed and cultivated fields of “wild weeds.” The policy of humiliation has also borne bitter fruit in the mixed cities within the Green Line, where nationalistic tensions have reached an unprecedented level, peaking during Operation Guardian of the Walls.
It should come as no surprise that Likud was quick to incite against the meeting (“Bennett’s Israeli-Palestinian government”) and issued its usual threats (“concessions dangerous to Israel’s security are only a matter of time”). After the ongoing criminal negligence of the Netanyahu government – this was the first meeting between Abbas and officials in Israel since 2010 – any positive movement along this critical path is perceived as dangerous by the warmongers and the sanctifiers of the greater Land of Israel.
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Prime Minister Naftali Bennett was informed ahead of time about the meeting, and it may be assumed that he agreed to it. It should be welcomed, but Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid must be called upon to meet with the Palestinian leader. Real change requires a change in attitude toward the Palestinians, and mainly requires a courageous and sincere attempt to put an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.