Why Did the PA’s Mahmoud Abbas Meet with Defense Minister Benny Gantz?
Mahmoud Abbas and his cabinet in Ramallah. Prime Minister Mohammed Shteyah is closest to him on the left and Majed Faraj, head of the Intelligence Service, is on the right. (President.ps)
The August 29, 2021, meeting between Israel’s Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas provoked heated reactions across the entire Palestinian political spectrum, as seen on the front pages of the daily newspapers of eastern Jerusalem.1 Among the allegations against Abbas was that instead of favoring reconciliation with Hamas, he preferred ties with Israel. Others blamed him for lowering the bar2 of nationalist expectations of establishing a state in exchange for economic benefits and Netanyahu’s economic peace formula.3
Hussein al-Sheikh, head of the PA’s Authority of Civil Affairs and liaison with Israel,4 defended the meeting, noting the crowning achievement of Israel’s agreement to renew the unification of Palestinian families. He said that in the first stage, 5,000 families would be unified.
Hussein al-Sheikh had to raise this kernel of an accomplishment in the face of criticism from political circles from the meeting and in light of Fatah’s silence.
Who Was at the Meeting? Who Was Not?
It should be noted that only Hussein al-Sheikh and Majed Faraj, the head of Palestinian General Intelligence Service, attended the meeting, while Prime Minister Dr. Mohammad Shatiyeh was missing. His absence indicates the deepening rifts in Fatah against the backdrop of the battle of succession after Abbas. Al-Sheikh and Faraj represent the camp that advocates good relations and cooperation with Israel, as opposed to Shatiyeh and senior Fatah officials like Mahmoud al-Aloul, who oppose connections with Israel. The ideological line in the battle of Palestinian succession lies here.
The flagship of the Palestinian diplomatic struggle in Israel is the prosecution in The Hague of senior Israeli officials for war crimes, and in this regard, there is bad news for the PA.
According to my sources in Ramallah, the International Criminal Court has not dismissed the case against Israel, but it is downgrading it on the agenda because there are more urgent matters to deal with. Moreover, Defense Minister Gantz is on the list of “war criminals,” and it would be difficult to convince the tribunal of such charges against Israel after such bilateral meetings take place in Ramallah.
The testing point for Mahmoud Abbas’ seriousness is his ability to dismiss Shatiyah and lead a new policy direction. Once discussed was the naming of a new Palestinian government headed by Ziyad Abu Amr, who was acceptable to Israel, but the Fatah “elders” blocked him and demanded retaining the stubborn Shatiyeh.
In conclusion: Majed Faraj, who represents security cooperation with Israel, and Hussein al Sheikh, who represents civil cooperation, came to the meeting, while Shatiyeh, who represents the struggle against Israel, did not. This issue will test Mahmoud Abbas’ ability to make a difference – even a small one.
It will also give us a clue as to where the West Bank leadership is headed in the future – in favor of cooperation with Israel or in favor of fighting it.
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2 https://alquds.com/2021/08/30/%d8%a7%d9%84%d8%af%d9%8a%d9%85%d9%82%d8%b1%d8%a7%d8%b7%d9%8a%d8%a9-%d8%b9%d9%86-%d9%84%d9%82%d8%a7%d8%a1-%d8%ba%d8%a7%d9%86%d8%aa%d8%b3-%d8%a7%d9%84%d8%a3%d8%ac%d8%af%d9%89-%d8%a7%d9%84%d9%84%d9%82/; like the Democratic Front or https://nn.najah.edu/news/Palestine/2021/08/31/382467/