Abbas won’t find the ‘political horizon’ he seeks | Opinions

On December 28, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz met at the latter’s home. It was their second official meeting since the current Israeli government came to power in June. The two had previously met in August and had a phone call a few weeks prior.

Gantz and Abbas discussed deepening security cooperation between the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the Israeli government and measures to alleviate the severe economic crisis in the West Bank.

The meeting was considered controversial by both sides. Hamas and other Palestinian factions declared the meeting futile, as it in no way advanced the Palestinian national cause, while various Israeli political figures, including members of the ruling coalition, saw it as a first step towards undue “concessions” to the Palestinians.

It is unlikely that Gantz and Abbas did not expect the controversy their meeting would cause. So why did they do it anyway and what does the continued engagement between the two mean for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict?

Political calculations

Having suffered from international isolation under the previous US administration, Abbas is eager to return to the international stage after US President Joe Biden took office in January 2021 and the formation of a new Israeli government without the Israeli prime minister. longtime Benjamin Netanyahu later that year.

The Palestinian president likely viewed raising Gantz in July as his best chance to do so. It is also possible that he hopes that the Israeli defense minister will follow in the footsteps of the late Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, who was ready to engage the Palestinian leadership and even sign a peace agreement with Yasser Arafat.

Abbas went to Gantz in search of a “political horizon” to continue on the path of the Oslo agreements, of which he was the godfather. But in Israel no one is talking about a political process with the Palestinians and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has made it clear that there will be none under his government.

This is why Abbas only managed to get certain economic measures from Gantz, which are supposed to help alleviate the economic crisis in the PA. These included Israel sending an advance payment of $32 million in taxes to the PA and providing more work permits for Palestinian workers and entry permits for Palestinian businessmen. .

According to Israeli media, Gantz also informed Abbas that the Israeli government had agreed to allow some 6,000 Palestinians from the West Bank and 3,500 from the Gaza Strip to be registered in the Palestinian population registry and issued citizenship documents. identification. The register is directly controlled by the Israeli authorities and the PA cannot add anyone to it without Israel’s permission, leaving tens of thousands of Palestinians undocumented.

For Gantz, the engagement with Abbas allows him to completely take over the Palestinian dossier and build his national and international political position using it. This initiative earned him the favor of the Biden administration, which is pressuring both the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority to resume talks. It also sets him apart from Bennett, who, fearing his right-wing allies will abandon him, is reluctant to engage directly with the PA.

The Israeli government, despite its far-right rhetoric, has an interest in maintaining close relations with the Palestinian Authority, especially in terms of security.

The meeting with Abbas came amid an escalation of resistance operations in the West Bank throughout the past year and an upsurge in violence by settlers and occupation forces against Palestinian civilians. These attacks resulted in a number of deaths and injuries among Israelis and Palestinians.

Both Gantz and Bennett know that the safety of the hundreds of thousands of illegal Jewish settlers in the West Bank depends on the cooperation of the PA. Israel’s defense minister demanded and obtained such security guarantees from Abbas in return for the economic measures he was offering.

The Israeli government also backs the PA because it fears an internal collapse could lead to a resurgence of Hamas in the West Bank.

No way to move forward

The only actor in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict who seemed to welcome the engagement between Abbas and Ganz was Washington. US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan worked hard to reconcile the two sides’ views on various issues and ensure the meeting would take place.

But even the Biden administration is not pushing for a major reset of Israeli-Palestinian relations and the resumption of political negotiations. He appears to be happy with this low-level engagement, acknowledging that resuming talks may be impossible at this time due to internal Palestinian divisions, the right-wing government in Tel Aviv and Washington’s own concern for the regional and international issues that he considers more urgent than the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Although Bennett is publicly opposed to engaging with the PA, he hasn’t stopped it because he doesn’t want to antagonize Washington, especially at a time when the Iran nuclear deal is being renegotiated. He sees no point in entering into a political confrontation with American allies as long as the ceiling of the Abbas-Gantz engagement does not go beyond discussing the economic conditions of the Palestinians.

This strategy of trading limited economic benefits for deeper security cooperation may well serve the interests of the Israeli government and its American allies, but it does next to nothing for the Palestinians. A few hundred work and entry permits and an advance on tax money will do little to improve the lives of Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation. Nor can they solve the deep crisis of legitimacy from which the PA suffers.

Asking for more security cooperation from the Palestinian security apparatus at a time when settler attacks on Palestinians are peaking would also not help repair Abbas’s dismal public image in Palestine. This may temporarily help Israel stem attacks in the West Bank, but with the root causes of the violence unaddressed, it is bound to rise again.

Moreover, the mobilization across historic Palestine that we have witnessed in 2021 against the Israeli occupation shows that the strategy of divide and conquer no longer works. Treating the economic crisis in the West Bank as a separate issue from the suffering of Palestinians in Gaza and within Israel’s official borders would not bring peace and stability. In fact, the longer the political demands of the Palestinians remain unanswered, the more the tension grows and sooner or later it may escalate into a third intifada.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.

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