Israeli President Isaac Herzog, Wednesday (29/12), praised the meeting of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz. He called the meeting “important and true.”
“As a believer in dialogue in all areas of our lives, of course I think this dialogue is positive and I find the meeting itself important and true.”
Gantz received Abbas on Tuesday night (27/12) at his private residence on the outskirts of Tel Aviv. It was the first time since 2010, Abbas met an Israeli official inside Israel. The two discussed security coordination between Israel and Abbas’s Palestinian Authority, which administers enclaves of the occupied West Bank.
President Herzog said the talks were important, “especially considering Israel is facing a challenging security situation in Judea and Samaria.”
“Security cooperation is a very important part of the war on terror. I also think that we need to find avenues for dialogue with our neighbors in any way that improves the lives of all of us and everyone, and of course integrates within a rapidly evolving regional structure.”
After a rare meeting with President Mahmoud Abbas, Minister Gantz on Wednesday (29/12), agreed on a series of actions aimed at improving relations with the Palestinians. Gantz’s office said he approved “trust-building measures” including the transfer of tax payments to the Palestinian Authority, issuing hundreds of permits to Palestinian merchants and persons of vital importance, and approving the residency status of thousands of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Israel collects hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes on behalf of the Palestinian Authority as part of interim peace agreements signed in the 1990s. Tax transfers are the main source of funding for cash-strapped Palestinians, but Israel has withheld funds from Palestinian Authority benefits payments to thousands of families whose relatives were killed, injured or imprisoned in the conflict. Israel says the payments encourage terrorism, while Palestinians say the benefits provide important support to families in need.
Israel approves the residency status of about 9,500 Palestinians. The Jewish state controls the Palestinian population register, and over the years its policies have left tens of thousands of Palestinians without legal status, limiting their freedom of movement, even within the occupied territories. Israel granted legal status to some 4,000 Palestinians in October.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett opposes Palestinian statehood. His government has shown no interest in reviving peace talks that broke down more than 10 years ago but says it wants to reduce tensions by improving living conditions in the West Bank. In recent months there has been a spike in violence by Israeli settlers against Palestinians in the West Bank and Palestinian attacks on Israelis in east Jerusalem and the West Bank.
Gantz’s meeting with Abbas — the second in six months since Bennett’s coalition government came to power — drew strong criticism from some Israeli opposition lawmakers, including from the Likud Party, the largest party in parliament.
Palestine sought to establish an independent state that included the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, territories captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war.
Hamas seized Gaza from Abbas’s forces in 2007, a year after the Islamist militant group won a landslide victory in parliamentary elections. Gaza has been under an Israeli-Egyptian blockade ever since. [ab/ka]