Israel and Palestine had the highest-level official talks in years on Sunday (29), when Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz met Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The conversation took place in Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian Executive.
According to Israeli government sources consulted by news agencies Reuters and AFP, however, there was no discussion about the peace process, which has been paralyzed for more than seven years.
Gantz’s office said he and Abbas had “a face-to-face meeting” after broader conversations and “agreed to maintain communication.” The meeting came hours after Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett returned from Washington, where he met with US President Joe Biden.
Also participating in the meeting in Ramallah Ghasan Alyan, Israeli military commander responsible for Civil Affairs in the Palestinian Territories; Hussein al-Sheikh, a high-ranking Palestinian Authority official; and Majid Faraj, head of Palestinian Intelligence. Al-Sheikh confirmed the meeting on social media, but the Palestinian Authority declined to comment on the content of the conversations.
After the meeting, the Israeli government announced on Monday (30) the loan of US$ 155 million to the Palestinian Authority, to be paid with the collection of future taxes by Israel.
The announcement comes at a delicate moment, as last month Israel blocked $180 million from the Palestinian government in taxes collected in 2020. The Israelis accuse the Palestinian Authority of paying protesters arrested or killed in attacks against Israel.
On Monday, the Israeli Defense Ministry said in a statement that the country is trying to “take measures to strengthen the Palestinian Authority’s economy.” According to the ministry, the two politicians also discussed the economic and security situation in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Bennett, who took office in June at the head of a diverse coalition, is a nationalist and longtime opponent of Palestinian statehood. He had been head of a council that lobbies for Jewish settlements in the West Bank, territory occupied by Israel since 1967.
His government, however, has sought to re-establish ties with the Palestinian Authority, which were broken during Binyamin Netanyahu’s (2009-2021) rule. With the unconditional support of then US President Donald Trump, Netanyahu made no substantial effort to resolve the conflict.
The Joe Biden government, in turn, supports a two-state solution and has resumed financial aid to the Palestinian Authority. The current prime minister’s office has made it clear that the coalition that brought him to power, which runs from the left to the far right, does not plan to initiate peace talks with the Palestinians.
High-ranking Israeli government officials, however, have signaled interest in strengthening the Palestinian Authority, amid fears of renewed clashes with the Islamist movement Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip.
Hamas criticized the meeting between Gantz and Abbas, saying it “aggravates Palestinian divisions”. Sworn enemies, Israel and Hamas waged an 11-day war in May this year. After the truce reached, firefights and sporadic acts of violence continue.
On Sunday (29), Israel carried out air strikes against the Gaza Strip, after incendiary balloons were launched over its territory from the Palestinian enclave. Last week, clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli police near the Gaza-Israel border left two Palestinians and one Israeli sniper dead, as well as dozens injured on the protesters’ side.