Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon met in Ramallah this week with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah to brief him on steps decided upon by the security cabinet last month to improve the economic situation in the PA.The senior officials met Wednesday night amid efforts by the US to jump-start the diplomatic process through measures it wants to see Israel, the Palestinians and the Arab world take to improve the overall atmosphere. The meeting came even as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and PA President Mahmoud Abbas have not held a substantial meeting since 2010; they spoke very briefly and shook hands at the World Climate Change Conference in Paris in 2015 and atShimon Peres' funeral in 2016.According to a statement from the Finance Ministry, Netanyahu knew of the Kahlon-Hamdallah meeting in advance, as did Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman.Wednesday’s discussion was part of a series of meetings Kahlon has held with senior Palestinian Authority officials since taking over at the ministry two years ago. Last month, for instance, he meet with PA Finance Minister Shukir Bishara.Kahlon was joined by Yoav “Poli” Mordechai, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, and Hamdallah was accompanied by Palestinian Minister of Civil Affairs, Hussein al-Sheikh.
The Finance Ministry statement said the steps approved by the security cabinet on the eve of Trump’s visit were detailed to the Palestinians.These include the opening of the Allenby Bridge Crossing 24 hours a day for the next two months and making the arrangement permanent in 2018; extending and upgrading crossing points in the West Bank; establishing an industrial zone near the Tarkumiya crossing; and easing restrictions on Palestinian building in specific areas of Area C that adjoin Areas A or B.Under the Oslo Accords, the West Bank is divided into three areas: Area C, which makes up 60% of the territory, is under complete Israeli control; Area B, which makes up 22% of the territory, is under Israeli security control, but Palestinian civil control; and Area A, which makes up 18% of the territory, is under Palestinians security and civil control.The two Bayit Yehudi ministers in the security cabinet – Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked – voted against these measures because it meant, in effect, that Israel would turn a blind eye to the illegal construction of some 20,000 Palestinian structures.The US, meanwhile, would like to see Israel take additional steps, such as reclassifying parts of Area C in northern Samaria as Area B. The Palestinians are keen on gaining control over segments of Area C, and at one point during the 2013-2014 diplomatic negotiations, Israel was reportedly willing to transfer tens of thousands of hectares of Area C to the PA, which would allow it to develop there without Israeli permits.Opposition head Isaac Herzog, meanwhile, praised Kahlon’s meeting with Hamdallah as “positive and important.”“Cooperation and the creation of economic levers are positive steps to halt terrorism and create the right infrastructure for starting the diplomatic process,” he said.
Trump arrives at the Presidential palace in Bethlehem (credit: REUTERS)