Palestinian president, Israeli defence minister hold rare talks

Ramallah: Israel’s defence minister met Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for a rare high-level meeting, but a source close to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett insisted on Monday his government had no plans to reboot peace talks.

Defence Minister Benny Gantz met Abbas in Ramallah for what were reportedly the first direct talks between an Israeli cabinet member and the 86-year-old Palestinian leader in several years.

The meeting, which Gantz’s office said focused on “security policy, civilian and economic issues”, came just hours after Bennett returned from Washington where he met US President Joe Biden.

Biden said he would urge Bennett to find ways “to advance peace and security and prosperity for Israelis and Palestinians”.

According to a defence ministry statement, Gantz told Abbas that Israel “seeks to take measures that will strengthen the PA’s (Palestinian Authority) economy”.

“They also discussed shaping the security and economic situations in the West Bank and in Gaza,” and agreed to “continue communicating further,” it added.

A source close to Bennett said that the meeting focused on “issues between the defence establishment and the Palestinian Authority”.

“There is no peace process with the Palestinians nor will there be,” under Bennett’s leadership, said the source who requested anonymity.

The Gantz-Abbas meeting included the head of the Israeli military branch responsible for civil affairs in the Palestinian territories, Ghasan Alyan, senior PA official Hussein Al Sheikh and Palestinian intelligence chief Majid Faraj.

Gantz’s office said he and Abbas had held “a one-on-one meeting” after the broader talks.

Al Sheikh confirmed the meeting on Twitter but the PA was not immediately available to comment on its substance. – AFP