Meeting was first high-level face-to-face encounter between Israelis and Palestinians in a decade.

By Pesach Benson, United With Israel

Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas held talks in Ramallah on Sunday evening, the first high-level face-to-face meeting between Israelis and Palestinians in a decade.

The two discussed issues of security, diplomacy, economics and civil affairs, according to a statement issued by Gantz.

“Gantz told [Abbas] that Israel is ready for a series of measures that would strengthen the PA economy,” the statement said. “The two also discussed shaping the security, civilian and economic reality in Judea, Samaria and Gaza.”

While Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has signaled that he has no interest in personally meeting Abbas, Hebrew media reports said Bennett consented to Gantz’s visit. A source close to Bennett stressed that Gantz’s meeting was not a sign of a diplomatic process and that the meeting “covered routine issues between the defense establishment and the Palestinian Authority.”

The meeting came on the heels of Bennett’s meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden on Friday. During their talks in the Oval Office, Bennett agreed to find ways of bolstering the PA.

Joining Gantz in Ramallah was the head of COGAT, Maj. Gen. Ghasan Alyan. COGAT is a unit within the Defense Ministry that coordinates civilian issues between Israel and the PA in Judea and Samaria. Also attending were Maj.-Gen. Majid Faraj, the head of the Palestinian Intelligence Service, and Hussein al-Sheikh, the PA Minister of Civilian Affairs.

After the main discussions, Gantz and Abbas met privately.

The PA economy has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. The economy shrunk by 11.5 percent in 2020 while foreign aid has largely dried up. According to reports, the PA received $300 million in foreign aid for its 2020 budget, but only $30.2 million for its 2021 budget.

Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu hasn’t met with Abbas since 2010, while their last known phone call was in 2017. The last direct Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, mediated by then-secretary of state John Kerry, collapsed in 2014.

Since June, when Bennett’s government was sworn in, a number of Israeli cabinet ministers have met or talked on the phone with their PA counterparts.

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