For the first time in more than a decade, Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas was visited by an Israeli member of government in Ramallah. An Israeli statement said Sunday night’s meeting with Defense Minister Benny Gantz, which was only disclosed afterwards, was about “reshaping the security and economic situation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip”. This can be taken as a sign of rapprochement – but one with limits.
Because from the entourage of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett of the right-wing Jamina party was sent immediately afterwards that this did not mean a return to the peace talks that had been stalled since 2014. “There is no diplomatic process with the Palestinians,” it said there, “and there will not be.”
In concrete terms, this means that Israelis and Palestinians are talking to each other again. But they don’t talk about peace, but about everyday matters in an ongoing conflict. After all, the meeting in Ramallah lasted two and a half hours. Delegations from both sides met first, followed by a 40-minute private conversation between Abbas and Gantz. In Jerusalem, it is also emphasized that Prime Minister Bennett had expressly approved the meeting.
After the political ice age of recent years, in which US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ignored Palestinian concerns as much as possible, the government changes in Washington and Jerusalem had already started a tentative thaw. Gantz had already contacted Abbas by phone in mid-July to wish him all the best for the upcoming Muslim holidays. In return, Abbas congratulated new Israeli President Isaac Herzog on taking office. The face-to-face meeting took place immediately after Bennett returned from his inaugural visit to the United States.
Hamas can profit from the economic crisis
The ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict had played only a minor role in the Washington talks. The US government is currently under the spell of the Afghan events, bilaterally mainly Iran and its nuclear program. In addition, Bennett had already had an interview with the New York Times emphasized its rejection of a two-state solution. No initiatives in the peace process will therefore come under him. At the same time, however, he also pledged to steer clear of an annexation of Palestinian territories once promoted by Trump and Netanyahu.
US President Joe Biden, many of whom initially expected a restart of the peace process, has clearly accepted Bennett’s position. He is aware of the heterogeneous and fragile Israeli government alliance, in which this issue is excluded by agreement. So during the meeting with Bennett at the White House on Friday, Biden left it with a call to “improve the lives of Palestinians and create better economic opportunities for them.” At the same time, he urged the Israeli government to avoid anything that could increase tensions.
Washington no longer counts on the big blow, but only on stabilization of the situation – and that is also in the interest of the Israeli government. The Abbas-led Palestinian Authority is in a major political and economic crisis. Abbas has dramatically lost support from the Palestinian people and, due to a lack of international support, he is barely able to pay civil servants’ salaries. This plays into the hands of Hamas competitors, with whom Israel was only engaged in an 11-day war in May.
The evening visit of the Israeli Defense Minister to Ramallah was therefore mainly aimed at strengthening Palestinian President Abbas. Despite his increasingly authoritarian and corrupt style of government, he is still considered an anchor of stability in the West and Israel. Gantz had assured Abbas that Israel would take steps to bolster the Palestinian economy, the Jerusalem statement said. Agreement had been reached on further dialogue on these issues.