As he made clear in his interviews yesterday with five Israeli newspapers, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett places no importance on the Palestinian Authority and its leaders. Nor, in fact, does he give any importance to meetings between his ministers, no matter how senior, and PA officials, such as that between President Mahmoud Abbas and Security Minister Benny Gantz, or the meeting between the head of the Civil Affairs Authority, Hussein Al-Sheikh, and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid. He considers these meetings to be in the context of what he agreed with his two colleagues when forming his government intent on "preserving the status quo" and intensifying Israeli settlements on occupied land.
In fact, the most important thing Bennett said regarding the Palestinian people and their leaders — who should be leading the nation — is his clarification that Gantz and Lapid are not authorised in any way to engage in political issues or move along a political track with the Palestinians. Nevertheless, some Palestinians maintain a glimmer of optimism; misplaced, I believe.
As long as such meetings do not delve into "serious" matters, therefore, they are harmless, and even useful if they enhance economic cooperation and trade with the Palestinians.
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What concerns me about his assertion is that Bennett is actually pulling the rug out from under the feet of the PA leadership, whether Abbas or those hoping to succeed him, such as Al-Sheikh. The latter tried to justify their recent meetings in the "Heart of Israel" by emphasising the necessity of "reining in" the settlers and creating a political horizon.
However, the Israeli prime minister's statements set things straight and made it clear that the occupying power is not about to launch a political process for an agreement with the Palestinians as long as he is heading the government, and even if the plan for Lapid to be the alternative prime minister is implemented. Bennett emphasised that any attempt to reach a "new Oslo" agreement would lead to the downfall of the government.
These statements are supposed to convince those in the Palestinian driving seat to stop the humiliating journey to the homes of Israeli ministers, because the keys to a solution are not held by them: "They are not authorised to conduct political talks with the Palestinian side."
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Bennett's words should also lead them to stop begging for "financial aid" and showing concern about the collapse of security coordination and the Palestinian Authority itself.
They must think instead about a resistance project and real liberation worthy of the Palestinian people. This process begins with directing efforts to put the Palestinian house in order and achieve reconciliation with the other factions before anything else.
This article first appeared in Arabic in Arab48 on 31 January 2022
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.