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The Abbas-Gantz meeting broke the deadlock without any major promises

Israeli Minister of Defense Benjamin Benny Gantz on December 9, 2021 in Arlington, Virginia. [Yasin Öztürk - Anadolu Agency]
Israeli Minister of Defense Benjamin Benny Gantz on December 9, 2021 in Arlington, Virginia. [Yasin Öztürk - Anadolu Agency]

A week after the meeting between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Benny Gantz at the Israeli Defence Minister's home, reactions are ongoing. Opinions vary: some approve, others oppose; some think that the meeting could help achieve a political breakthrough with the Palestinians; and yet others believe that the meeting held personal and partisan interests for Gantz, who seeks to improve his position in the government.

It is true to say that most Israeli reactions were not enthusiastic about the meeting, given that Abbas is no longer relevant to political developments and that the US administration does not want to go down the political path due to its many other preoccupations. However, those who oppose the meeting in public do not do so behind closed doors. Right-wing positions are clearly for the electorate.

Gantz attacked those ministers who opposed his meeting with Abbas, accusing them of paying more attention to partisan and personal interests at the expense of Israel's security needs. He claimed that the reason for his meeting was to protect Israelis and tackle Hamas in the West Bank. It is obvious that Israeli ministers differ on the matter, with one prevailing view being that the PA leadership is corrupt and oppresses the Palestinians.

Gantz's defence that his meeting with Abbas was intended to prevent a third Palestinian intifada was rejected by his opponents in Israel. They stressed that there are regular contacts between senior PA officials and their Israeli counterparts focused on security cooperation. Such officials have apparently shown a willingness to address the issue to a degree that matches that of the Israelis.

READ: Mahmoud Abbas and his loyalty to US-Israeli interests

The end result, though, is that relations between the Palestinians and Israel are not at their best. Nevertheless, Gantz has agreed to pay one hundred million shekels in advance taxes to the PA, and grant 600 business permits and 500 VIP permits for senior PA officials.

Abbas brought a present to Gantz and received Israeli olive oil in return... - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

Abbas brought a present to Gantz and received Israeli olive oil in return… – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

The right-wing criticism of the Gantz-Abbas meeting raises important questions about the right's ideological leader, Benjamin Netanyahu. Throughout his twelve years in power he did not cancel the Oslo Accords; did not sever relations with the PA; and did not define it as an enemy or a terrorist entity. Netanyahu did not even fulfil his main promise made on the eve of the 2009 election to overthrow the Hamas authority in Gaza.

Such right-wing duplicity over the Gantz-Abbas meeting confirms what many Israelis have known for many years: issues viewed from the outside or from the position of the opposition are usually different when looked at from the inside. The Likud view that the meeting was a threat to Israel is, therefore, nothing more than party political jousting.

At the same time, it is no secret that Abbas's meeting with Gantz was not meant to advance the political process, as the PA team has claimed. The Israelis have refuted this by saying that it focused on security issues and intelligence cooperation between the occupation authorities and the PA. It was clearly about Israeli interests, as the heads of the military establishment, the Shin Bet internal security agency and the Israeli army attest.

READ: Even if the meeting did not occur

Israelis who support the meeting have no high hopes about it leading to a resumption of the political process with the Palestinians. At the same time they know that they are facing difficult trade-offs in the West Bank, where the choice is between the Fatah-controlled PA and Hamas. Cooperation with Abbas remains the least harmful option, they believe. Abbas did not hesitate to confirm to his Israeli host that he would continue to block resistance to the occupation. Gantz remains grateful that PA security forces rescue settlers who enter Palestinian cities.

Most importantly, Israelis on all sides know that security coordination with the PA is purely in Israel's interest. For this reason, Netanyahu agreed for his senior ministers to hold meetings with Abbas. In his early years in high office, he also hugged Yasser Arafat, and invited Abbas to his own home. In the absence of a political process, Israel is obliged to maintain a channel of communication with the PA, even if it is unpopular, in order to protect settlers and soldiers from resistance operations.

The Gantz-Abbas meeting, without any major promises either way, thus broke the deadlock that dominated the relationship between Israel and the PA during the Netanyahu era, when the complete lack of confidence between them was destructive. Netanyahu took steps to weaken the PA, of which the annexation plan that he tried to promote in 2020 was the most prominent. Gantz played a major role in thwarting that dangerous move.

Indeed, even in the absence of political negotiations, over the past six months Gantz has led on a fundamental change in relations with the PA, which has been welcomed by the Biden administration in Washington. The US is tending to promote Gantz at the expense of his political opponents, because it will be easier if he is prime minister to implement Donald Trump's "deal of the century" that the Americans want, despite the change of occupant at the White House.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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