Air Warms Between Israel, Palestinian Authority With Rare Phone Calls

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In honor of the Islamic Eid al-Adha holiday on July 19, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas received calls from top-ranking Israelis: President Isaac Herzog, Minister of Defence Benny Gantz and Minister of Public Security Omer Bar-Lev.

It was Herzog and Abbas’ second conversation in 10 days. The first took place the day after Herzog was sworn in on July 11. The two know each other from Herzog’s years as a politician. As chairman of the Labor Party, Herzog tried to promote the concept of the two-state solution. According to news reports, Abbas brokered a long and positive telephone conversation between Herzog and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on July 12, indicating a possible improvement in bilateral ties.

Gantz, the top security figure in the government, also spoke to Abbas about operational issues. It was the first known conversation in years between the Palestinian leader and a high-ranking Israeli minister. The last conversation took place in 2017, when Abbas was in talks with former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

According to Gantz, the two discussed promoting security and economics in the region, as well as relations between the two nations and the need to take confidence-building steps, “which the support the security and economy of the whole region.”

More than seven years since negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians exploded, there are now signs of warming between the parties. In April 2014, US Secretary of State John Kerry led accelerated negotiations toward a political agreement, but they ended on a sour note. Three months later, Israel’s 51-day operation against Hamas inflicted casualties on both sides.

Since then, Netanyahu’s strategy has been to weaken Abbas and strengthen Hamas. From the time Donald Trump was elected US president in 2016, the Palestinian Authority and Palestinian leadership lost more power to the point of irrelevance when the US embassy was moved to Jerusalem and when the Abraham Accords completely outlawed Palestinians. removed comparison.

Two dramatic changes have recently taken place: first, Trump was outright defeated; second, a Democratic government took over, led by President Joe Biden, who was vice president under Barack Obama, who believed in the two-state solution.

The other change is the new government in Israel after Netanyahu’s long regime. Along with the Biden administration, there is a sense of change and transformation in the air, despite the Israeli government being led by right-wing Naftali Bennett. Bennett is politically very weak, dominated by center-left elements in his coalition. The US government is quietly working behind the scenes to strengthen the Palestinian Authority. Following Israel’s Operation Guardian of the Walls, Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited both Israel and the Authority to establish a foundation for diplomatic relations.

A senior member of the Israeli government told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity: “There is no doubt that we are seeing something new here. The Americans are quietly pushing for restrictions on construction in the West Bank and I estimate it is only a matter of time before the Palestinian Consulate in East Jerusalem reopens.”

According to the same source, Americans are waiting for the new Israeli government to stabilize at the end of 2021, when the Israeli budget is approved. “Only then will things really start to move. The educated guess is that the Biden administration will then push for renewed negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Bennett and Secretary of State Yair Lapid are expected to visit Washington soon. Meanwhile, we will see more and more efforts to strengthen the status of Abbas and the Authority.”

Thus, a new picture emerges of thawing relations between Israel and the Authority, while the US government takes care of the wind. Gone are the days when Netanyahu was Israel’s sole authority on security policy issues, and now dialogue with the Palestinian government in Ramallah is becoming increasingly possible.

It is true that security cooperation with the Palestinians was maintained even during the Netanyahu era, but now diplomatic relations are also heating up. A minister in the new government told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity: “We will not be surprised if meetings are held in the near future.” According to the source, “Bennett and Lapid will not meet Abbas at this stage, because that will involve the renewal of the negotiations, and Gantz is in charge of that. There will be Meretz and Labor ministers who will meet with Abbas, but that will happen after the new government is more established.”

Meretz’s Minister of Regional Cooperation Issawi Frej maintains direct ties with high-ranking Palestinian agents in the Authority. A meeting with Abbas has not yet been arranged and it is likely that Bennett’s office had requested that a meeting be postponed so as not to embarrass right-wing elements of the government at such an early stage.

So where is this going, if Israel’s current prime minister is a right-winger who recently pushed for annexation of the West Bank settlements?

According to radio analyst Jacky Hugi of Arab Affairs, there is an atmospheric change and that is no small matter. “We are witnessing an ‘offensive’ of Israeli smiles towards the Authority and Abbas, and American hugs are also being sent his way. This is certainly a better atmosphere after years of decoupling, in which the Palestinians were excluded from the whole process and in which they were dealt a series of blows. The blows included the loss of US aid allocations, the relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem and, of course, the Abraham Accords signed behind their backs. But we need more time to see how this all develops.”

If we step back to review the history of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute over the past decade, summer is upon us Abraham Chords originated as a watershed. The agreements shattered the two-state paradigm and proved that peace accords can be concluded with other Arab states without resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Now that there is a new government in the United States and a new government in Israel, the Palestinian issue back to our calendar.

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