PA President Mahmoud Abbas reportedly warned Defense Minister Benny Gantz that if he had pledged to end violence in the West Bank, he feared changes in the religious status quo on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem will only lead to an “unstoppable” escalation, according to Hebrew media reported on Wednesday.
Abbas was greeted by Gantz at his home on Tuesday, the first time the Palestinian leader has had talks with a senior Israeli official in Israel since 2010. The meeting was the second for Gantz and Abbas since the formation of Israel’s new government in June. , with the first taking place in Ramallah. According to the Ministry of Defense, this lasted two and a half hours; part was between Abbas and Gantz alone.
Reporting details of Wednesday’s conversation, Channels 12 and 13 quoted Abbas telling Gantz he would not support a return to violence in the West Bank “even if a gun was pointed at my temple.”
However, Abbas told Gantz he was concerned about the violence erupting in Jerusalem, particularly around the Temple Mount. Abbas told Gantz that if there was a change in religious elements at the holy site, it would lead to an “unstoppable” escalation, Channel 13 reported.
The report gave no details of the changes that worried Abbas. However, in recent months, it has been reported that Israel is quietly allowing Jewish prayer at the site, which appears to be a major change from the status quo that has existed at the holy site since the Jewish state captured. the old city of Jerusalem. of Jordan during the Six Day War of 1967.
The Temple Mount is the holiest place in Judaism, as the site of biblical temples. It is the site of Islam’s third holiest shrine, the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and has been a frequent flashpoint for Arab-Israeli violence.
Concerned with reducing friction with the Muslim world after the capture of the holy place, and given that Orthodox sages generally advise against going up the Temple Mount for fear of treading the sacred ground where the Holy of Holies stood, Israel has authorized since 1967 the Jordanian Waqf to continue to maintain religious authority atop Mt. Jews are allowed to visit under many restrictions, but not to pray.
In recent years, the Israeli public’s perception of the ban on Jewish prayer has changed. Thanks to the fruits of a long-term concerted public relations campaign calling for religious freedom and human rights, the previously marginalized Temple Mount movement is increasingly integrated.
But in the face of Palestinian claims that Israel seeks to change the status quo on the mount that have intermittently sparked outbreaks of violence in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, successive Israeli governments have long maintained that Israel is committed to the status that was established there over the past decades and does not intend to change accepted practices.
During the meeting, Abbas also reportedly called on Gantz to grant greater freedom of action to Palestinian security forces in the West Bank, promising to quell all violence against Israel, Channel 12 reported. He also called on the IDF to lower its visibility in the West Bank where it has carried out a series of raids aimed at uprooting Hamas terrorist cells.
Gantz, for his part, dismisses criticism from the right and within the coalition over his decision to welcome Abbas.
“Only someone who is responsible for sending soldiers into combat knows how deep the obligation to prevent it is,” Gantz tweeted. “This is how I have always acted, and this is how I will continue to act.”
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett himself is said to have opposed the move, and some ministers noted that Abbas was personally leading a campaign to prosecute Gantz in the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes.
Citing Palestinian sources, public broadcaster Kan said Gantz thanked Abbas for the PA role in rescuing two Israelis from Ramallah earlier this month after they lost their way and were surrounded by a crowd. Palestinian. Abbas reportedly added that friction must be reduced between settlers and Palestinians in the West Bank.
Abbas brought Gantz a gift and received Israeli olive oil in return, Hebrew media reported. During the meeting, Gantz’s son walked into the room and Gantz said he was a soldier. Abbas commented: “I hope that peace will come out of this house. “
The meeting was heavily criticized by hawkish opposition parties, as well as right-wing members of the coalition, which covers the Israeli spectrum from hawk to dove and also includes an Islamist party, and has often taken political action against some of his constituents. .
Kan reported, without citing a source, that Bennett had been informed of the meeting in advance, and “criticized Gantz’s intention to hold the meeting, and expressed resentment over the hosting of [Abbas] in Gantz’s house.
Bennett opposes resuming peace talks with the Palestinians and has refused to meet with Abbas. Nonetheless, his government is committed to supporting the Palestinian Authority and strengthening its struggling economy, with Gantz spearheading this initiative. Gantz said he viewed Abbas’s regime as the only alternative to a powerful Hamas in the West Bank.
– hadas grinberg (@hadasgrinberg) December 28, 2021
Housing Minister Ze’ev Elkin, of the right-wing coalition New Hope party, told Radio 103FM that not all ministers were notified in advance of the meeting.
“I would not have invited to my home someone who pays salaries to murderers of Israelis and also wants to put senior IDF officers in prison in The Hague, including the host himself,” he said. he said, referring to a campaign launched by Abbas urging Israeli security officials, including Gantz – a former IDF chief of staff – to be prosecuted by the International Criminal Court as war criminals.
Elkin was also referring to a Palestinian Authority policy of paying monthly stipends to those convicted of terrorism in Israeli jails and to the families of Palestinians killed, including those killed in terrorist attacks. While Palestinians view the payments as a form of social assistance, Israel and others note that they offer a direct incentive to carry out attacks against Israelis.
Gantz has “no government leeway to conduct peace negotiations, and he knows it,” Elkin added.
The opposition Likud party criticized the meeting on Tuesday evening, saying “Bennett’s Israeli-Palestinian government is coming back. [Abbas] and the Palestinians center stage ”and warned that“ it is only a matter of time until there are dangerous concessions to the Palestinians ”.
The meeting was greeted, however, by left-wing and centrist members of the coalition.
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, who heads the centrist Yesh Atid party, said the Gantz-Abbas meeting “is important to both Israel’s security and its international status. Security and civilian coordination with the Palestinian Authority is essential to Israel’s security and is responsibly and professionally led by the Minister of Defense.
Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz, leader of the Meretz party, tweeted that “strengthening ties and seeking a diplomatic solution is of paramount interest to both nations”.
He was also greeted by President Isaac Herzog who said that “the dialogue was positive, especially at this time of heightened security challenges” in the West Bank.
US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides tweeted he was “excited” by the talks. “May this meaningful diplomacy lead to many other confidence-building measures for the New Year. It benefits us all!
Gantz’s office announced several “confidence-building measures” following the meeting.
These include approving the inclusion of 6,000 West Bank residents and 3,500 Gaza residents on a humanitarian basis in the registration of Palestinian Authority residents; advance the transfer of 100 million shekels ($ 32.2 million) in tax payments; and the addition of 600 BMC (Businessperson’s Card) approvals for senior Palestinian businessmen, as well as 500 permits for businessmen with such permits to enter Israel with their vehicles, and dozens of VIP permits for senior officials of the Palestinian Authority.
Gantz and Abbas also discussed additional construction plans for Palestinian homes, the defense minister’s office said.
The current Israeli government has already loaned the Palestinian Authority 500 million shekels ($ 160 million) to ease its crippling debt crisis, provided permits to undocumented Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza, and increased the number of permits for Palestinians to work in Israel in an effort to pump the economy of the West Bank.
Gantz first spoke on the phone with Abbas in mid-July. The two then officially met in Ramallah at the end of August, marking the first contact of this level between high-level Israeli and Palestinian decision-makers in more than a decade.
Abbas’s last official meeting in Israel was in 2010 when he met then Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the latter’s official residence for the peace talks. The peace process has been largely moribund over the past decade, with Netanyahu scrambling to undermine Abbas and push back the conflict with the Palestinians.
Abbas also traveled to Jerusalem for the 2016 funeral of Israeli statesman Shimon Peres.