JERUSALEM (AP) – Israel’s defense minister held talks Sunday night with the Palestinian president in the first high-level meeting between the two sides in years, authorities said.
The meeting between Benny Gantz and Mahmoud Abbas signaled a possible change of direction after the almost complete breakdown of communication between Abbas and Israeli leaders in recent years, under former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Netanyahu pursued a hard-line policy toward the Palestinians, backed by former US President Donald Trump, who had approved pro-Israel policies, such as moving the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to disputed Jerusalem. Abbas maintained most of his contacts with the United States and Israel during those years.
Netanyahu had repeatedly claimed that Abbas was not a reliable partner in negotiating a peace deal, a description that Netanyahu’s critics rejected as a pretext to avoid making concessions.
The Gantz-Abbas meeting came just after Israel’s current Prime Minister Naftali Bennett was received at the White House by President Joe Biden. The Biden administration views Abbas as an essential player in any effort to resume long-stalled talks on the terms of the Palestinian state, despite the fact that Abbas is increasingly isolated and unpopular at home.
The Haaretz daily said the meeting took place in the Israeli-occupied West Bank city of Ramallah, where Abbas is based.
Gantz told Abbas that Israel would take steps to strengthen the Palestinian economy, according to a statement from Gantz’s office. The economy of the autonomous Abbas-run enclaves in the West Bank is dependent on Israel and has been hampered by movement restrictions that Israel says are imposed for security reasons.
Hussein Sheikh, a senior Abbas aide, confirmed the meeting in a statement on Twitter.