Palestinian president meets Israeli defence minister [and spoke Prime Minister] ahead of Biden’s visit

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz (AFP)

The National  /  July 8, 2022 

High-level meetings between the leaders tend to focus on economic and security co-ordination.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz met late on Thursday in the occupied West Bank to discuss security co-ordination ahead of US President Joe Biden’s visit next week.

High-level meetings between Israeli and Palestinian leaders are rare and tend to focus on day-to-day economic and security co-ordination.

An Israeli statement said the meeting in Ramallah, where the Palestinian Authority is headquartered, was conducted in “positive terms”.

It said the sides agreed to “continue security co-ordination and avoid activities that may cause instability”.

Mr Gantz wished Mr Abbas and the Palestinian people a happy Eid al-Adha, the statement said.

Mr Abbas “stressed the importance of creating a political horizon, respecting the signed agreements and stopping the actions and measures that lead to the deterioration of the situation,” Hussein al-Sheikh, a senior aide to the Palestinian president, wrote on Twitter.

Mr Abbas also stressed the importance of having a “calm atmosphere before President Biden’s visit, which we welcome,” the tweet said.

Mr Gantz met with Mr Abbas twice last year and announced measures to improve economic conditions in the occupied West Bank. He remains defence minister in a caretaker government ahead of elections planned for November 1.

Mr Biden is due to visit Israel and the occupied West Bank from July 13 to 15, and will hold talks with new Israeli caretaker Prime Minister Yair Lapid and Mr Abbas before heading to Saudi Arabia.

The Palestinians seek a state in the occupied West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, territories Israel captured in the 1967 war.

On Sunday, Mr Lapid held his first Cabinet meeting since taking over as leader, promising a functional government despite the political instability that is sending Israel to its fifth elections in less than four years.

Mr Lapid also said Israel would take any step necessary to defend itself after it shot down three unmanned aircraft allegedly launched by the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.

He took over last month as prime minister as part of an agreement forged last year that created a coalition government after a series of defections.

Israel will head to the polls again on November 1, when Mr Lapid will seek to convince voters to adopt his centrist vision and deny former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was ousted last year after more than a decade in power, a chance to return to lead the country.

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Palestinian leader, Israeli PM hold first call in years

AP  /  July 8, 2022

Ramallah, West Bank – Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Friday received a call from Israel’s caretaker prime minister, Yair Lapid, the first such conversation between Abbas and an Israeli premier in years.

The call came amid a rare flurry of high-level Israeli-Palestinian contacts ahead of President Joe Biden’s visit to Israel and the occupied West Bank next week. The talks focused on calming tensions and coordinating security ahead of the visit.

A statement from Lapid’s office said he spoke with Abbas about “the continuation of cooperation and the need to ensure quiet and calm.” Hussein al-Sheikh, a senior Abbas aide, said Lapid congratulated Abbas on Eid al-Adha, a Muslim holiday starting Saturday, and “discussed the latest situation briefly,” without elaborating.

Abbas received Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz at his headquarters in the occupied West Bank town of Ramallah on Thursday and also spoke to Israeli President Isaac Herzog by phone.

The peace process collapsed more than a decade ago. High-level meetings between Israeli and Palestinian leaders are rare and tend to focus on day-to-day economic and security coordination.

Gantz met with Abbas a couple of times last year and announced measures to improve economic conditions in the occupied West Bank.

Lapid and Gantz, both centrists, are serving in a caretaker capacity ahead of elections planned for Nov. 1, in which religious and nationalist parties that take a hard line toward the Palestinians are expected to retain their majority in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament.

Abbas heads the Palestinian Authority, which administers parts of the West Bank under interim peace agreements reached in the 1990s. He is deeply unpopular among Palestinians, in large part because of his close security coordination with Israel.

Biden is expected to meet with top Israeli and Palestinian leaders next week.

The Palestinians seek a state in the occupied West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, territories Israel captured in the 1967 war.

Israel annexed East Jerusalem in a move not recognized internationally and views the entire city as its capital. It withdrew soldiers and settlers from Gaza in 2005 but imposed a crippling blockade when the Islamic militant group Hamas seized power from Abbas’ forces two years later, limiting his authority to parts of the West Bank.