In Reversal, Israel’s New Government Engages With Palestinian Authority

JERUSALEM — One evening final month, a prime Israeli minister traveled the winding roads of the occupied West Bank to fulfill Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority.

The assembly between Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Mr. Abbas on the octogenarian Palestinian chief’s personal residence — lower than a 10-minute drive from the Israeli army’s regional headquarters — lasted solely about 90 minutes, nevertheless it instantly made waves in Israel and the West Bank.

It was the primary time in additional than seven years {that a} senior Israeli minister was identified to have met with Mr. Abbas. Israel’s earlier authorities, led by former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, had denigrated Mr. Abbas as an intransigent inciter of violence and by no means met with him.

The August assembly is probably the most outstanding piece of proof of a brand new, extra cooperative method to coping with the Palestinian Authority, which senior members of Israel’s new authorities see as a bulwark in opposition to the Islamist militant group Hamas.

Since the federal government took workplace in June, different ministers have met with their Palestinian counterparts and Israeli officers mentioned they had been taking an array of concrete steps to profit Palestinians economically, to extend safety cooperation and to vary some insurance policies that had been denounced as discriminatory.

“The Palestinian Authority is the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, and we are working to strengthen the P.A.,” Mr. Gantz informed diplomats at a current briefing.

But the budding entente has clear limits, provided that Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has dominated out the potential for peace talks and the creation of a Palestinian state. Those constraints have led some critics to characterize his authorities as a type of Netanyahu-lite and to assault the Palestinian Authority for going together with the brand new measures.

Still, the coverage represents a significant shift from the current Netanyahu years, when the federal government incessantly undermined the Palestinian Authority and threatened to annex massive components of the West Bank, main the authority to interrupt off safety cooperation with Israel. And the Biden administration is urgent each governments to enhance relations as a step towards peace, even when no peace talks are within the offing.

In addition to the Gantz-Abbas assembly, two authorities ministers and President Isaac Herzog have spoken to Mr. Abbas by telephone and at the least 5 ministers have met with senior Palestinian officers.

The authorities can also be taking a bunch of sensible steps which might be probably to enhance the lives of many Palestinians.

The authorities has agreed to grant residency to 1000’s of undocumented members of the family of Palestinians within the West Bank who’ve lived in limbo with none formal authorized standing, usually for years, Israeli and Palestinian officers mentioned.

Last month, Israel moved to approve the development of about 1,000 new Palestinian housing models in an Israeli-controlled part of the occupied West Bank, an space the place the federal government has not often allowed Palestinians to construct.

The authorities lent the authority $156 million to assist it by means of a monetary crunch, Israel’s regional cooperation minister, Esawi Frej, mentioned. And it has elevated by 15,000 the quota of Palestinian laborers allowed to work in Israel, the place the minimal wage is about thrice as excessive as it’s in Palestinian communities.

The Israeli military has offered Palestinian safety forces with extra freedom of motion in areas beneath Israeli safety management, in line with an Israeli safety official, who spoke on situation of anonymity to debate delicate issues. Palestinian officers had complained that the necessity for Israeli permission to enter sure areas had stymied energetic felony investigations.

The military is decreasing Israeli raids into areas beneath Palestinian safety management, the official mentioned.

Israel and the authority have began high-level discussions about introducing 4G cellphone know-how to the occupied territories, officers mentioned. Palestinian telecommunications corporations want Israel to launch frequencies they’ll use for the service. The West Bank presently has 3G, whereas Gaza remains to be limping together with 2G.

Mr. Frej mentioned Israel was additionally reviewing potential financial growth initiatives within the West Bank.

Palestinians are largely pleased with the brand new insurance policies, with 56 p.c contemplating them to be optimistic, in line with a ballot printed by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research on Tuesday.

Haitham al-Natsheh, 34, a Hebron resident who has had no authorized standing since 1991, mentioned he was overcome with pleasure when he heard that Israel would offer residency to folks like him.

“It was a sweet feeling,” he mentioned. “We have lived through so many problems. Honestly, if there are any measures meant to make our lives easier, we support them.”

Nimrod Novik, an analyst for the Israeli Policy Forum, mentioned the brand new insurance policies marked “a dramatic departure from the strategy of Netanyahu, who would weaken the authority to the point of collapse before letting it breathe.”

As useful as the brand new method could also be for Palestinians, the Israeli authorities’s blunt rejection of Palestinian statehood has opened it to criticism that it’s providing solely a gentler model of the Netanyahu imaginative and prescient of the Palestinian battle as an issue to be managed fairly than resolved.

Mr. Bennett has mentioned that he opposes Palestinian statehood, and final week declared that he wouldn’t meet with Mr. Abbas.

But even when he modified his thoughts, any transfer to begin negotiations towards statehood would probably convey down the federal government, a fragile coalition of numerous events with mutually unique positions on the difficulty.

That closed door has led to accusations that Mr. Abbas was forsaking Palestinian nationalism to just accept what critics name an “economic peace.”

Islamist teams have lashed out at him for assembly with Mr. Gantz, whereas secular critics have accused him of collaborating with the Israeli occupation.

“It’s astonishing,” mentioned Nasser al-Qudwa, the previous Palestinian envoy to the United Nations and the nephew of the Palestinian chief Yasir Arafat. “They are willing to engage in this process which is void of any recognition of Palestinian national rights.”

Even because the Israeli authorities takes steps to enhance the Palestinian economic system and safety, it has pledged to proceed increasing settlements within the West Bank. It has additionally continued to demolish Palestinian houses constructed with out permits in areas the place permits are not often issued, and to make use of a heavy hand in opposition to Palestinians at protests and clashes.

A spokesman for Mr. Abbas didn’t reply to a request for remark, however Sabri Saidam, the deputy secretary basic of the Fatah Central Committee, mentioned that Mr. Abbas rejects the criticism that he’s promoting out the Palestinian dream of statehood for the sake of financial stability.

People who’ve spoken to Mr. Abbas not too long ago mentioned he understands the political limits of Israel’s present authorities and accepts these cooperative measures as start line for engagement.

He can also be following the steering of the Biden administration, which is selling the measures as a part of what it casts as a long-term course of to advance efforts to finish the battle and obtain a two-state resolution.

In a prerecorded speech to the United Nations on Friday, Mr. Abbas appeared to check with these steps, saying “we will strive to succeed in this endeavor so as to create conditions conducive to moving swiftly towards a final political settlement that ends the Israeli occupation.”

But he additionally set a deadline for that settlement. Calling for a world peace convention to resolve the battle, he gave Israel an ultimatum of 1 yr to withdraw from the occupied territories, together with East Jerusalem, or he would search a ruling from the International Court of Justice on the legality of the occupation.

American officers acknowledge the present limits about “what may be viable and what may be on the table,” because the State Department spokesman Ned Price put it final week, and are centered on attempting to enhance circumstances for Palestinians and relations between the Israeli and Palestinian governments.

President Biden, talking on the United Nations on Tuesday, reaffirmed his assist for a two-state resolution, including, “We’re a long way from that goal at this moment, but we must never allow ourselves to give up on the possibility of progress.”

Some analysts have argued that an method that begins with a deal with the economic system might pave the best way for the authority to realize extra autonomy.

Small financial initiatives might assist construct the belief wanted to open the door to extra consequential adjustments like Israeli authorities allowing Palestinian tax officers to be current at ports or granting Palestinians larger freedom of motion, mentioned Joel Braunold, the managing director of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace in Washington.

“This process could allow for the Palestinian Authority to lock in real wins,” he mentioned. “It could lead to changes that make a real difference in the lives of average Palestinians.”

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