Abbas, Gantz hold first high-level talks in years

Abbas, Gantz hold first high-level talks in years
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Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met with Israeli defence minister Benny Gantz on Sunday evening, in the first of such high level meeting in years.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met with Israel's defence minister [Getty]

Israel's defence minister held talks late Sunday with the Palestinian President in the first high-level meeting between the two sides in years, officials said.

The meeting between Benny Gantz and Mahmoud Abbas signalled a possible shift of direction after the near-complete breakdown of communication between Abbas and Israeli leaders in recent years, under former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Netanyahu pursued a hard-line policy, backed by former US President Donald Trump who had approved pro-Israeli policies such as moving the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to contested Jerusalem, which critics say undermined the essential Palestinian right to statehood.

Abbas halted most contacts with the US and Israel during those years, saying the decisions killed the two-state solution. The decisions by Netanyahu and Trump also sparked global protests in solidarity with Palestine.

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The Gantz-Abbas meeting came just after Israel's current prime minister, Naftali Bennett, was received at the White House by President Joe Biden. The Biden administration views Abbas as an essential player in any efforts to resume long-stalled talks on the terms of Palestinian statehood.

The Haaretz daily said the meeting took place in the town of Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where Abbas maintains his headquarters.

Gantz told Abbas that Israel would take measures to strengthen the Palestinian economy, according to a statement by Gantz' office. The economy of the Abbas-administered autonomous enclaves in the West Bank is dependent on Israel and has been stymied by movement restrictions Israel says are imposed for security reasons.

Hussein Sheikh, a top Abbas aide, confirmed the meeting in a statement on Twitter.