The exceptional visit had not been announced. On Tuesday evening, December 28, the President of the Palestinian Authority (PA), Mahmoud Abbas, visited the home of Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz, located in Rosh Haayin, in central Israel. An almost unprecedented trip in eleven years – with the exception of the funeral of former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres, in 2016. The two men, who had last seen each other in August, in Ramallah, at the headquarters of the ‘AP, in the occupied West Bank, spoke for more than two hours. According to the official Israeli statement, the purpose of the meeting was to discuss the “Security coordination and other humanitarian issues”.
They exchanged gifts – Mahmoud Abbas is known to have given Benny Gantz a bottle of olive oil – and took the time to talk face to face. Much of the conversation revolved around tensions in the West Bank, which have escalated in recent weeks. Mr. Abbas also spoke of fears of an eruption of violence in Jerusalem, linked to religious tensions around the Mosque esplanade.
Leaving the home of Mr. Gantz, with his procession of 4 × 4 armored vehicles, the Palestinian delegation, which included the powerful coordinator of civil affairs – the main interlocutor of the Israelis -, Hussein Al-Sheikh, and the chief of intelligence, Majed Faraj, did not leave empty-handed. The Israelis have offered an advance of 100 million shekels (just over 28 million euros) on Palestinian tax revenues that Israel collects.
The Palestinian Authority is in fact going through a deep financial crisis, due to the reduction in foreign contributions to its budget. In her luggage, she also brought entry permits into Israeli territory for hundreds of businessmen, as well as a dozen VIP passes for PA members. Another symbolic measure: the regularization of tens of thousands of Palestinians and members of their families, undocumented because Israel very rarely recognizes the family reunification of Palestinians.
“Abbas’s personality disturbs”
The rival Palestinian factions of Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah saw the meeting as a betrayal. “This divides the Palestinian camp and encourages countries in the region that want to go to normalization of relations with Israel,” criticized Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem. The “joint office of the resistance”, which brings together the various Palestinian factions involved in the armed struggle, met urgently on Wednesday morning. Hours later, a sniper shot and wounded an Israeli Defense Ministry official on the border with Gaza. In response, Israeli artillery shelled Hamas positions, injuring three people – farmers, according to the Palestinians.
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Mahmoud Abbas tries to renew dialogue with Israel to save his reign