Following Gantz-Abbas Meeting, Israel Announces Further Concessions to PA

YERUSHALAYIM -
Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. (Sputnik/Evgeny Biyatov/Kremlin via REUTERS)

Israel on Wednesday announced a series of “confidence-building measures,” concessions to the Palestinian Authority, approved by Defense Minister Benny Gantz following his meeting with PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.

Gantz met on Tuesday night with Abbas at his home in Rosh Ha’Ayin for “a discussion on a number of security and civilian topics.”

According to a statement by the Defense Ministry, Gantz informed Abbas of “his intention to continue advancing confidence-building measures in economic and civilian areas, as was determined in their previous meeting.”

The measure Gantz approved included status approvals “on a humanitarian basis” for 6,000 residents of Yehudah and Shomron in the PA’s Population Registry, and an additional status approval for 3,500 Gaza residents.

This means that Israel has officially recognized the legal status of these Arabs, after making a similar concession for 4,000 in October. Such registration enables them to receive a recognized legal status, the ability to obtain work permits, travel, and perform other legal-related tasks.

Gantz further approved the transfer in advance of tax payments Israel collects on behalf of the PA at the sum of NIS 100 million.

He also approved an additional 600 BMC (businessman card) permits, 500 additional permits for businesspeople to enter Israel with their vehicles, and dozens of VIP permits for PA senior officials.

Gantz and Abbas also discussed “additional building programs,” probably for Arab construction in Yehudah and Shomron.

Gantz informed Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid ahead of the meeting. Bennett told confidantes privately that he was not in favor of the idea but could not stop it. Most of the ministers in the security cabinet were not told about the meeting and heard about it from the press late Tuesday night or even Wednesday morning.

The meeting came as acts of Palestinian terrorism in Yehudah and Shomron, in areas under the control of the PA, are on the rise.

The reactions in the Israeli political system were mixed.

Housing Minister Ze’ev Elkin told Israel Radio that he “does not attach much importance to [the meeting]. I would not invite someone to my home who pays salaries to Israeli murderers.” The PA has a policy of paying stipends to terrorists and their families, conduct Israel’s views as incentivizing terrorism.

Other right-wing ministers, including Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked and Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar, have yet to respond.

The Religious Zionist Party lamented that that “a decade after the right succeeded in making Abbas irrelevant and persona non grata around the world, and taking dividing the Land of Israel and forming a terror state off the international agenda, Bennett and his left-wing government are returning Abbas to center stage.”

However, Regional Development Minister Issawi Frej, of the left-wing Meretz party, stated that “only if you meet, can you make progress.” The meeting is “essential for establishing trust between the parties and for preserving the diplomatic horizon. At the same time, contacts between civic and economic actors in the two governments must be strengthened, a task that will be launched soon, with a convening after a 12-year hiatus of the Joint Economic Committee.”

Gantz himself dismissed the criticism:

“Only someone who is responsible for sending soldiers into battle knows how deep the obligation to prevent it is,” Gantz tweeted on Wednesday. “This is how I have always acted, and this is how I will continue to act.”

U.S. Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides hasn’t been so enthusiastic about anything Israel has done since taking office.

“So excited to see Defense Minister Gantz host PA President Abbas at his home last night,” tweeted Nides. “May this meaningful diplomacy lead to many more such confidence-building measures for the New Year. It benefits us all!”

Yisrael Price contributed to this report.