30 August 2021

Israel and Palestine hold first high-level talks in years

30 August 2021

Israel’s defence minister has held talks with the Palestinian president in Ramallah, the first high-level meeting between the two sides in years, officials said.

Sunday’s meeting between Benny Gantz and Mahmoud Abbas signalled a possible shift of direction after the near-complete breakdown of communication between Mr Abbas and Israeli leaders in recent years.

It came two days after US President Joe Biden urged new Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett during a White House meeting to take steps towards improving the lives of Palestinians.

Mr Gantz’s office said he told Mr Abbas that Israel will take new measures to strengthen the Palestinian economy.

It said the two men also discussed security issues and agreed to remain in touch.

It is believed to have been the highest level public meeting between the sides since 2014.

President Mahmoud Abbas halted most contacts with the US and Israel after Donald Trump pursued a hardline policy towards the Palestinians (Brian Lawless/PA) (PA Archive)

A Palestinian official said Mr Gantz and Mr Abbas discussed possible steps towards improving the atmosphere.

He said this included Palestinian demands for a halt to Israeli military operations in Palestinian areas of the occupied West Bank, allowing unification of families with relatives inside Israel and allowing more Palestinian workers into Israel.

Mr Bennett is a hard-liner who opposes Palestinian independence, as do key partners in his diverse, ruling coalition.

But he has said he supports building up the Palestinian economy and expanding autonomy for Palestinians. He is also interested in bolstering Mr Abbas in his rivalry with the ruling Hamas militant group in Gaza.

While Mr Biden supports a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians, his administration is focused on interim confidence-building measures.

Israel’s former prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, pursued a hardline policy towards the Palestinians, backed by former president Donald Trump.

The Trump administration took a number of steps, including moving the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to contested Jerusalem. Mr Abbas halted most contacts with the US and Israel in return.

Mr Netanyahu had repeatedly claimed Mr Abbas was not a reliable partner for negotiating a peace deal, a portrayal dismissed by Netanyahu critics as a pretext for avoiding making concessions.

Hussein Sheikh, a top Abbas aide, confirmed the meeting in a statement on Twitter.

It took place on Sunday night in Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where Mr Abbas maintains his headquarters.

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