Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas met in Ramallah on Sunday night, officials said.
It was the highest-level meeting between Abbas and an Israeli minister to be made public since Israel’s new government was formed in June.
Sources in the Prime Minister’s Office stressed Monday that “the meeting was approved by the Prime Minister ahead of time and sought to focus on defense issues concerning Israel and the PA. There are no negotiations with the Palestinians, nor will there be.”
Gantz told Abbas that Israel would take measures to strengthen the Palestinian economy, according to a statement from his office.
“They also discussed shaping the security and economic situations in the West Bank and in Gaza. They agreed to continue communicating further on the issues that were raised during the meeting,” the statement said.
Hussein al-Sheikh, a member of Abbas’s Fatah Central Committee, said the discussion included “all aspects” of Palestinian-Israeli relations.
Peace talks between the two sides collapsed in 2014, though Israel over the past year has reached normalization agreements with a number of Arab countries, under the auspices of the U.S.
The meeting in Ramallah came just a couple of days after Prime Minister Naftali Bennett met with U.S. President Joe Biden in the White House, during which Biden reiterated support for a two-state solution.
However, other top PA officials urged the international community to increase pressure on Israel.
Ramallah’s PM Mohammad Shtayyeh and Foreign Minister Riad al-Malki met on Sunday with Western consuls and diplomats who are stationed in the PA territories.
According to the PA news agency Wafa, Shtayyeh urged the EU to increase pressure on Israel over its “violation of the rights of the Palestinian people,” and urged them to spare no effort to “expedite the establishment of an independent and sovereign Palestinian state” within the 1967 borders, with Jerusalem as its capital.
According to the report, Shtayyeh said that the Quartet – namely the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia – should spearhead the efforts to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
The Palestinian Prime Minister further accused Israel of “undermining the democratic process in the Palestinian Authority” by preventing the holding of general elections in Yerushalayim.
Abbas used Israel’s position as an excuse to cancel June’s elections, which would have been the first parliamentary and presidential elections in the PA in 15 years.
Abbas – elected to a four-year term in 2005 – has used the same excuse several times in recent years, in an attempt to maintain his grip on power.
Shtayyeh also stressed the importance of internal Palestinian discourse and national unity.
Hamas, which ousted Fatah from the Gaza Strip in 2006 in a military coup, has been cultivating a growing presence in the West Bank. Regional experts believe the real reason why Abbas continuously postpones the Palestinian elections is over his fear Fatah will be removed from power in Ramallah as well, effectively allowing the Islamist terrorist group to reign over both Palestinian territories.
The latter is also of grave concern to Israel and other moderate Arab countries in the region.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad subsequently condemned the Abbas-Gantz meeting on Monday.
“President Mahmoud Abbas’s meeting with Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz is a stab in the back of the Palestinian people and what they have sacrificed,” said Hamas spokesperson Abd al-Latif al-Qanou in a statement.
A second Hamas spokesperson, Hazim Qasim, further accused Abbas of “encouraging Arab countries to normalize with Israel” by meeting the senior Israeli official.
“This weakens the Palestinian stance that rejects normalization,” Qasim said.
Islamic Jihad also denounced the meeting.
Updated Monday, August 30, 2021 at 12:05 pm .