Israel will lend the struggling Palestinian Authority more than $150 million after the two sides hold their highest meeting in years, Israeli officials said Monday, downplaying the prospects of a major diplomatic breakthrough.
Defense Secretary Benny Gantz, who has overall responsibility for the Israeli-occupied West Bank, traveled for earlier secret conversations on Sunday with President Mahmoud Abbas.
A source close to Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said the Prime Minister had approved the Gantz-Abbas meeting and: considered it a “routine” affair. “There is no diplomatic process with the Palestinians, and there will not be,” the source told Reuters.
US-sponsored talks on the creation of a Palestinian state stalled in 2014. The Gantz-Abbas meeting took place when Bennett, an anti-Palestinian nationalist, returned from his first talks with US President Joe Biden in Washington. .
PA official Hussein Al-Sheikh said talks with Gantz covered “all aspects” of Palestinian-Israeli relations.
Abbas coordinates security in the West Bank with Israel. Both sides are wary of Hamas Islamists who took the Gaza Strip, another Palestinian territory, from Abbas in 2007.
But Israel is annoyed by the allowances the PA pays to militants imprisoned or killed in attacks on Israelis. In protest, the Bennett administration last month withheld $180 million from 2020 tax revenue it collected on behalf of the PA. A spokeswoman for Gantz said the policy was unchanged.
The 500 million shekel ($155 million) loan was intended to help “with PA vital functions” and would be repaid in 2022 from future tax revenues collected by Israel, the spokeswoman said.
A White House statement said that during his talks with Bennett on Friday, Biden reiterated his support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and “underscored the importance of taking steps to improve the lives of Palestinians.”
Bennett made no mention of Palestinians in public comments at the White House that largely focused on nemesis Iran’s nuclear program.
Gantz, a centrist in Bennett’s coalition government, has in the past called for the resumption of a peace process with Palestinians seeking statehood in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital.
Israel captured those territories in the 1967 Middle East War.
But any renewed movement on the issue could shake the foundations of Bennett’s government of left, right, centrist and Arab parties, which in June ended conservative Benjamin Netanyahu’s 12-year tenure as prime minister.
As a sign of friction within the coalition, Mossi Raz, a lawmaker from the left-wing Meretz party, said the Bennett source’s rejection of prospects for renewed peace talks was “outrageous”.
“A peace process is an Israeli interest,” Raz wrote on Twitter.