Palestinian president, Israeli defence minister hold rare talks

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has held his first official meeting with a senior Israeli in more than a decade. It was believed to be the highest level public meeting between the sides since 2014. Defence Minister Benny Gantz said he travelled to Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank, on Sunday night to discuss security, civilian and economic issues.

Israel’s new government has said it is interested in bolstering Abbas in his rivalry against Gaza’s ruling Hamas group. Gantz told Mr Abbas that Israel would seek to strengthen the Palestinian economy. The meeting included the head of the Israeli military branch responsible for civil affairs in the Palestinian territories, Ghasan Alyan, senior PA official Hussein al-Sheikh and Palestinian intelligence chief Majid Faraj. US President Joe Biden wants both sides to repair relations that have deteriorated since the last round of direct peace talks collapsed in 2014. At the White House on Friday, he urged Israel’s new Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to take “steps to improve the lives of Palestinians and support greater economic opportunities for them”. He also reaffirmed his view that a negotiated two-state solution was the only viable path to achieving a lasting resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israel’s defence minister has announced a series of gestures aimed at strengthening the Palestinian Authority, including plans to loan $150m to the cash-strapped autonomy government in the occupied West Bank. The money is to be repaid with tax funds that Israel normally collects for the Palestinians. Israel would recognise the status of thousands of Palestinians currently living in the West Bank without proper documentation; grant Israeli work permits to an additional 16,000 Palestinians; and issue 1,000 building permits for Palestinians in parts of the West Bank under full Israeli control.