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Palestinian president makes rare visit to Israel for talks with defence chief

Randy Mancini 2 December 29, 2021
FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Sochi
FILE PHOTO: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas attends a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi, Russia November 23, 2021. Sputnik/Evgeny Biyatov/Kremlin via REUTERS/File Photo

December 29, 2021

JERUSALEM (Reuters) -Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas made a rare visit to Israel for talks on economic and security issues with Israel’s defence chief, but with few prospects for any resumption of long-stalled peace negotiations.

Defence Minister Benny Gantz hosted Abbas in his home late on Tuesday, the Western-backed Palestinian leader’s first such visit to Israel in more than a decade.

In a statement on Wednesday, the Israeli Defence Ministry announced a series of what it described as “confidence-building measures” that would ease the entry of hundreds of Palestinian business people to Israel.

Abbas and Gantz last met in August, in the occupied West Bank. Palestinian official Hussein al-Sheikh said that at Tuesday’s talks they discussed the “importance of creating a political horizon” for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Gantz, in his summation of the meeting on Twitter, made no mention of a peace process, stalled since 2014 after U.S.-backed talks collapsed. Palestinians seek to establish a state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

“We discussed the implementation of economic and civilian measures, and emphasised the importance of deepening security coordination and preventing terror and violence – for the well-being of both Israelis and Palestinians,” Gantz wrote.

DIVISIONS ON BOTH SIDES

Israel’s multi-party government led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is deeply divided over the statehood issue. Palestinian rivalries remain strong, with Hamas Islamists, who have fought four wars with Israel, running the Gaza Strip.

In a move that could ease travel for thousands of Palestinians, the Defence Ministry said Gantz approved registration as West Bank residents for some 6,000 people who had been living in the territory, captured by Israel in a 1967 war, without official status.

Another 3,500 people from Gaza would also receive residency documentation, the ministry said.

The meeting followed several Palestinian attacks on Israelis in recent weeks in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Palestinians also complain of attacks by Israeli settlers.

In Gaza, Hazem Qassem, a Hamas spokesman, said that by meeting Gantz, Abbas was deepening Palestinian political divisions and encouraging accommodation with “the occupation”, a term the group uses to describe Israel.

(Reporting by Ali Sawafta in Ramallah, Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem, Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza and Ahmed Tolba in Cairo; Writing by Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem; Editing by Richard Pullin and Alex Richardson)