Israeli, Palestinian ministers hold rare meeting amid criticism

Invited by the French, the meeting comes amid frosty ties between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

February 18, 2018 20:13
2 minute read.
Israeli, Palestinian ministers hold rare meeting amid criticism

Economy Minister Eli Cohen (left) met with Palestinian counterpart Abeer Odeh (right) in Paris last week with French President Emmanuel Macron (center) to discuss steps to improve the Palestinian economy. (photo credit: COURTESY ECONOMY MINISTRY)


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Economy Minister Eli Cohen met with his Palestinian Authority counterpart, National Economy Minister Abeer Odeh, in Paris last week, discussing economic cooperation while coming under criticism from some activists.

Sitting down at the Elysee Palace on Thursday along with French President Emmanuel Macron, the trio discussed ways to increase trade between Israelis and the Palestinians and improve the economic situation within the PA.

“Promoting joint economic projects is in the interest of both sides and has security and political importance beyond the economic dimension,” Cohen said in a statement. “Joint projects will address, among other things, the current shortage of workers in Israel due to the low level of unemployment.”

Invited by the French, the meeting comes amid frosty ties between Israel and the PA – exacerbated by US President Donald Trump declaring Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and threatening to decrease aid to the Palestinians.

The summit touched upon the 1994 Paris Protocol, signed during the Oslo era and which forms the basis of the economic relations between the two sides. The ministers discussed removing bureaucratic obstacles that Israel places on the West Bank, according to Cohen’s office.

Cohen and Odeh also discussed possibly increasing the number of Israeli work permits allotted to Palestinians, along with assisting in the export of Palestinian goods and developing joint industrial zones.

“Our policy is to make it as easy as possible and to make every effort to provide a normal life for those who are not involved in terrorism, but not at the expense of the security of the State of Israel,” Cohen said.

Some Palestinians reacted harshly to the meeting, lobbing criticism at PA officials. One faction, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, denounced Odeh attending the summit and said it signaled that “The PA is unwilling... to put an end to the Palestinian economy’s dependence on Israel.”

Cohen added that the Paris meeting is a continuation of previous summits between Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah.

Last week, Hamdallah met with Maj.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai, the head of Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) – or the army branch which administers the West Bank.

That meeting – meant to discuss the humanitarian crisis in Gaza with the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Nickolay Mladenov – also received flak from Palestinians on social media.

Kahlon previously met with Hamdallah in Ramallah in May 2017 to discuss steps – previously approved by the security cabinet – to expand the Palestinian economy.

Some of those measures, such as opening the Allenby Bridge Crossing 24 hours a day, were implemented on a trial basis and then rescinded this fall. The bridge now operates on a more limited schedule.

During the Paris visit, Cohen also met with the secretary-general of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Angel Gurria, and French Economy and Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire, along with French business executives.

During his tenure, Kahlon has sat down with a number of PA officials, including PA Finance Minister Shukir Bishara.

However, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and PA President Mahmoud Abbas have reportedly not had a substantive meeting in years.

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