Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz has met Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas in the occupied West Bank in the first high-level meeting between the two sides in 10 years, the first since Prime Minister Naftali Bennett took office in June.
Gantz travelled to the West Bank city of Ramallah for “security, civilian, and economic discussions” with the 85-year-old Palestinian leader, officials said on Monday.
They came hours after Israeli leader Bennett returned from Washington, DC where he met US President Joe Biden at the White House.
“Defence Minister Benny Gantz met with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmud Abbas [Sunday] evening to discuss security policy, civilian and economic issues,” Israel’s defence ministry said in a statement.
Gantz, the head of a centrist party in Israel’s government coalition, told Abbas “that Israel seeks to take measures that will strengthen the PA’s economy. They also discussed shaping the security and economic situations in the West Bank and in Gaza”, it added.
“They agreed to continue communicating further.”
The meeting included the head of the Israeli military branch responsible for civil affairs in the Palestinian territories, Ghasan Alyan, senior PA official Hussein al-Sheikh and Palestinian intelligence chief Majid Faraj.
Al-Sheikh confirmed the meeting on Twitter, while Gantz’s office said the defence minister and Abbas held “a one-on-one meeting” after the larger talks.
— حسين الشيخ Hussein Al Sheikh (@HusseinSheikhpl) August 29, 2021
A Palestinian official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Gantz and Abbas discussed possible steps towards improving relations – including Palestinian demands for a halt in Israeli military operations in the occupied West Bank, allowing the unification of families with relatives inside Israel, and allowing more Palestinian workers into Israel.
‘Maintaining the status quo’
Bennett is a hardline nationalist who opposes Palestinian statehood and previously led a powerful settler lobbying council.
Al Jazeera’s Natasha Ghoneim, reporting from West Jerusalem, said the talks marked a shift in engagement but noted it is “very doubtful” they are a move towards reviving the moribund peace process.