According to Israel’s Channel 12 TV channel, in the middle of last month Prime Minister Naftali Bennett turned down a request by Defence Minister Benny Gantz to meet Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Gantz was disappointed with Bennett’s decision, and insisted that it was not only important for him to meet with Abbas, but also that he is the most senior and appropriate Israeli official to do so given that Bennett’s electoral base is on the far right.
Bennett is opposed to renewing the peace process with the Palestinians and gave no reason for turning down Gantz’s request. However, left-wing and centrist politicians in his government coalition believe that resuming official relations with the PA leadership and supporting the authority is in Israel’s best interests.
Just two weeks later, Gantz’s office revealed that he had held two separate meetings with Abbas: the first included senior security and civil affairs officials, and the second was just the two men on their own. Moreover, Gantz went to Abbas’s stronghold, the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah. They discussed security, diplomatic, economic and civil society issues.
“Israel is ready for a series of measures that would strengthen the PA economy,” Gantz is reported to have told Abbas. He pledged a NIS500m ($155m) loan for the PA, to be repaid from the monthly tax revenues collected by Israel on the authority’s behalf.
It now seems that Bennett was not happy with the Abbas meeting, but he could not prevent it. It looks as if he was obliged to let it go ahead. Award-winning Israeli journalist Meron Rapoport believes that this happened because the military lobby is imposing its agenda on the government.
“There is a conflict between the politicians and the army in Israel,” he told me, “and the military lobby won the round regarding support for the PA. Bennett just surrendered to this lobby. He allowed Gantz’s meeting with Abbas and agreed to allow the transfer of money to Gaza.”
As education minister in 2018 under former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Bennett opposed the transfer of funds from Qatar to help the Palestinians in Gaza. He compared the cash to “protection money” paid to criminals. Addressing Netanyahu, he added: “You might buy short-term quiet, but you accustom the other side to applying violence as a way of advancing its interests.”
Now, he is allowing support for the PA and Qatari money for Gaza. He prevented Gantz from holding a meeting with Abbas, and then approved the meeting. This suggests strongly that he is following the agenda of others, notably the Israeli military and Washington.
Rapoport told me that the military lobby in Israel believes that “money brings calm”. What’s more, Gantz’s meeting with Abbas came immediately after Bennett’s return from Washington where he met Joe Biden. The US president, asked him to take steps towards improving the lives of Palestinians.
According to Israeli journalist Oren Ziv, a staff reporter and photographer at Local Call and +972 Magazine, Biden agreed to discuss the Palestinian issues in a closed meeting so that he would not embarrass Bennett. Biden apparently ordered Bennett, who supported the eviction of Palestinians from Jerusalem, to take practical measures to stop such evictions in the city’s Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood. The US leader highlighted “the importance of refraining from actions that could exacerbate tensions, contribute to a sense of unfairness, and undermine efforts to build trust.”
Following the meeting with Biden, Bennett vowed to bolster the PA and prop it up during its financial crisis. He also gave up his annexation plans.
Right-wing journalist Baruch Yedid reported Israeli sources as saying that Biden had also ordered the US Consulate in occupied East Jerusalem to be reopened. The sources, Yedid told me, said that Bennett “begged” Biden not to make these orders public and to postpone the reopening of the consulate until after the passing of the budget bill so that the Knesset will pass the bill, which will “preserve” the coalition government.
Bennett is “weak”, said Rapoport. He agreed with me that the prime minister is not carrying out his own agenda, and simply accepted Biden’s orders, including the consulate issue. If that is the case — and I think it is — then what, we are entitled to ask, is Bennett doing as prime minister? He has apparently accepted that he will be no more than a puppet acting on behalf of others. He has not only given up his own views, but is also adopting policies against them.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.