Last week, Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz visited the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah and held two meetings with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The meetings have provoked heated reactions across the political spectrum in Israel and the Palestinian factions
Defending the meetings, Gantz revealed that they were "solely for security purposes." His office said that Gantz had told Abbas about a number of goodwill gestures, including a series of measures to strengthen the PA economy, as well as its security cooperation with Israel.
"It was a meeting about security, where we discussed security cooperation and joint activities. We want to strengthen the moderate forces in the area," said the ministry. "The two also discussed shaping the security, civilian and economic reality" in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Israelis from the far right to the far left believe that the PA is on the brink of collapse. Hence, there is some agreement that it must be supported because any alternative will never be as helpful to Israel as the PA is. Due to its wide-scale corruption, and in the wake of the murder of Palestinian activist Nizar Banat by PA security officers, the PA leadership has been facing fierce criticism and public pressure to step down.
On the opposite side of the political fence, the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas, has been increasing in popularity, not only in the Gaza Strip, which it has governed since 2007 but also in the occupied West Bank, which is by the Fatah-run PA. Thousands of public servants are being paid by the PA, even in Gaza. Gantz's meetings were apparently backed by the coalition government, and intended to show support for the PA to prevent its collapse.
According to Palestinian writer Daoud Kuttab, Abbas and his PA are "complicit with perpetuating the status quo of a permanent occupation." He reiterated that the PA's popularity is sinking in the West Bank following Abbas's "postponement" — for which read cancellation — of elections earlier this year and Banat's murder in June.
Israeli orientalist and writer Zvi Bar'el described Gantz's "confidence-building measures" as an "empty package" which offers nothing to the Palestinians, but gives everything to the Israeli occupation. The defence minister's aid to the PA and steps to ease life for the Palestinians under occupation will do nothing of the sort; he was lying when he claimed otherwise. It is all about Israel's security, not the people of Palestine and the hardships imposed upon them.
According to the Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs, only Majed Faraj, who represents the PA in terms of security cooperation with Israel, and Hussein Al-Sheikh, who represents civil cooperation, met with Gantz during his visit to Ramallah, alongside Abbas. If the economy and "easing" life for the Palestinians were objectives of the meetings, why were the ministers of the economy and welfare not involved?
Al-Sheikh was there, not for civil coordination, but for the Abbas succession arrangements. The question of who will succeed the octogenarian president, who is unwell, was on the agenda. The issue of the reunification of 5,000 Palestinian families was reported to have been discussed as well, probably to give the impression that there was something to benefit the people of Palestine because this issue is taboo in Israel.
"Who will be the happy families who will attain family reunification and residency status?" asked Bar'el. "Previous experience has taught us that the process is long and exhausting, the criteria are unclear and the decisions are arbitrary and depend on the approval of the Shin Bet security service… Israel, in any case, will not waive its total control of Palestinian demographics in the territories."
Israel is only interested in strengthening the PA's security cooperation in order to guarantee full control over the 70,000 security officers — yes: 70,000 — who clamp down on resistance to the occupation but do nothing to improve the lives of the Palestinians. If Israel is really ready to offer something for the latter, it should cancel the deduction of the tax revenues it collects on behalf of the PA.
Moreover, if Israel is really interested in helping the Palestinians, it would cancel its plans to evict the residents of Khan Al-Ahmar, Sheikh Jarrah and other Palestinian neighbourhoods, not simply postpone the evictions until a more stable government comes along. If it wants to offer "goodwill gestures" to the Palestinians, it would stop its settlers and officials from raiding Al-Aqsa Mosque during the day and raiding Palestinian homes at night.
In fact, there are many things it could do to ease the life of the Palestinians. It could stop arresting and imprisoning women and children, for example; put an end to "administrative detention" with neither charge nor trial; start to treat Palestinian prisoners with at least a minimum of concern for their health and welfare; and stop encouraging and supporting Jewish settlers who carry out daily attacks on Palestinians and their property across the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem, even within Israel itself. Israel could also stop expanding Jewish settlements and let the Palestinians build their homes wherever they want on their own land and put an end to the frequent demolitions.
Commenting on the Israeli permission for Palestinians to build around 1,000 housing units in Area C and increase the number of Palestinian workers inside Israel, Bar'el said that the housing units "isn't a gift, since at the same time Israeli will advance the construction of 2,200 housing units in the settlements." He also pointed out that the increased number of workers is "mainly due to the shortage of construction workers in Israel" rather than any concern for the Palestinians.
The "empty package" given to the Palestinians by Israel "is in effect designed to build confidence with Joe Biden's administration," added Bar'el, "in exchange for a freeze on the entire diplomatic process and for US agreement to refrain from implementing the two-state solution."
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