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Gantz-Abbas meeting changes nothing for Palestinians

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz. (Reuters)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz. (Reuters)
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01 Sep 2021 01:09:37 GMT9
01 Sep 2021 01:09:37 GMT9

If anyone is familiar with the law of diminishing returns, it must be Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. The peace process that he had embraced since the early 1990s is no more, and in the past decade not a single round of diplomatic talks have been held with Israel. So when Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz paid a rare visit to Ramallah on Sunday night to meet with Abbas, sources close to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett were quick to reiterate that there was no diplomatic process with the Palestinians on the horizon.

Abbas’ office did not comment on the public meeting, the first of its kind since 2010, but Gantz tweeted that he had discussed security policy, civilian and economic issues, and that he told Abbas that Israel seeks to take measures that will strengthen the Palestinian Authority’s economy. He went on to say that he discussed shaping the security and economic situations in the West Bank and in Gaza. “We agreed to continue communicating further on the issues that were raised during the meeting.”

The meeting took place a day after Bennett returned from his first official visit to Washington. Before the Israeli leader left, he made it clear that there would be no peace with the Palestinians and that the Israeli siege on Gaza will continue as long as Hamas rules the coastal enclave. He told The New York Times that there will be no progress in the peace process, claiming peace talks would not happen because the Palestinian leadership is fractured and rudderless, and reiterating that he is resolutely opposed to Palestinian sovereignty.

While the Biden administration has committed to the two-state solution, it is not ready to launch a new peace process. Its priority for now is to support the financially troubled PA and Palestinian institutions, and improve the lives of Palestinians, including those in the Gaza Strip. The White House has pressured Israel to ease the economic blockade of Gaza and support efforts for reconstruction following last May’s showdown, which inflicted heavy damage on the enclave’s infrastructure.

Israel recently agreed to increase Jordanian exports to the West Bank and, under US pressure, will take steps to advance what Bennett called “fiscal measures” to support the PA.

It is clear that the US and Israel are worried about the survival of the PA. Politically, Abbas, Fatah and the PA have suffered badly since last May’s military confrontation between Hamas and Israel.

Furthermore, Palestinian institutions are in a state of political paralysis, with no sign that Abbas is willing to set a new date for legislative and presidential elections.

Meanwhile, the PA has been rounding on critics and activists, and using force against journalists. The human rights situation is getting worse, and the EU and UN have expressed concern over the use of force against Palestinians exercising freedom of expression and assembly. Palestinians have been demonstrating against the PA following the death in custody of activist Nizar Banat in June. Those close to Abbas say he feels isolated.

While the Biden administration has committed to the two-state solution, it is not ready to launch a new peace process.

Osama Al-Sharif

The Gantz-Abbas meeting covered the only thing that remains of the Oslo Accords: Security coordination. Hamas was quick to condemn the meeting, saying that Abbas cares only about maintaining security coordination with Israel, which is an insult to Palestinians.

Egypt has given up on its mediation between Hamas and Fatah in a bid to end intra-Palestinian friction and reach reconciliation. Hamas feels emboldened after its recent clash with Israel, as its popularity in the West Bank has spiked at the expense of Fatah, which remains deeply divided.

It is ironic that Abbas’ survival now depends on the goodwill of Israel, which is being ruled by a premier whose ideological beliefs reject Palestinian statehood as a matter of principle.

With no political breakthrough in sight, Israel will continue expanding settlements, subjugating Palestinians and cementing apartheid rule. The PA can do nothing to stop the slow encroachment on Palestinian lands, while the current US administration will not sponsor a new political process, but hopes to manage the conflict by improving the lives of Palestinians.

It is a sad reality that after decades of struggle for liberation, Palestinians find themselves facing a ruthless occupation that defies international law on the one hand, and an authoritarian president who remains delusional about the prospects of negotiating a peace deal with Israel on the other. Even sadder is that Palestinian activists and critics are being hunted down for demanding basic rights not by Israel but by the PA’s security forces.

Israel’s support of the 86-year-old Abbas aims at keeping the Palestinians at bay and under control, while negotiating a long-term truce with Hamas. It is an ideal situation for Israel — for now — but one that is unsustainable in the long run.

  • Osama Al-Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman. Twitter: @plato010
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