Lapid speaks with Abdullah, Abbas prior to Biden’s visit

High-level communication between Israel and the PA was severed while former US President Donald Trump was in office.

 PALESTINIAN PRESIDENT Mahmoud Abbas attends a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi, November 2011; Israeli Foreign Minister and Head of the Yesh Atid party Yair Lapid speaks during a faction meeting at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, on February 14, 2022. (photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90, SPUTNIK/EVGENY BIYATOV/KREMLIN VIA REUTERS)
PALESTINIAN PRESIDENT Mahmoud Abbas attends a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi, November 2011; Israeli Foreign Minister and Head of the Yesh Atid party Yair Lapid speaks during a faction meeting at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, on February 14, 2022.
(photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90, SPUTNIK/EVGENY BIYATOV/KREMLIN VIA REUTERS)

Prime Minister Yair Lapid spoke with Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas over the weekend in advance of US President Joe Biden’s visit this week to Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Separately, President Isaac Herzog spoke with Abbas, and Defense Minister Benny Gantz met with the PA president in Ramallah, in what is the third such meeting between the two men in less than a year.

Flurry of well-wishes

The Eid al-Adha holiday, which began this weekend, opened the door for the flurry of high-level conversations, but the focus was on the Biden trip, which is expected to deal with Iran, Saudi Arabia and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Jordan is not on the itinerary, but the impact of the trip will be felt both in that country and the wider region, where the US is trying to build a Middle East alliance against Iran.

 US SECRETARY of State Antony Blinken meets with PA President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, last year (credit: MAJDI MOHAMMED/POOL VIA REUTERS) US SECRETARY of State Antony Blinken meets with PA President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, last year (credit: MAJDI MOHAMMED/POOL VIA REUTERS)

In tweeting about his conversation with Abdullah, Lapid said, “I sent him & the people of the Hashemite Kingdom my best wishes on the occasion of #EidAlAdha. We discussed the need to strengthen our ties & deepen cooperation, as well as @POTUS’s upcoming visit to the region.”

Iran’s foreign ministry said on Saturday that plans by the United States and Israel for a joint defense pact with Arab states to counter the threat of Iranian drones and missiles would only increase regional tensions.

“The entry of foreigners in the region... will not create security and stability but is itself the main cause of tension and regional rift,” ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani said, according to state media.

White House spokesman John Kirby said on Thursday that US officials are discussing ways of integrating air defense capabilities with regional leaders in the face of a threat from Iran.

The visit is also expected to advance Israel’s push to establish diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia, a move that so far has proved elusive.

Israel’s regional cooperation minister Essawi Frej (Meretz) said on Thursday that he had asked Saudi Arabia to admit direct flights from Tel Aviv for Muslim pilgrims. A person in Washington who was familiar with the matter said the new aviation deals sought by Israel could be announced around the time of Biden’s visit, but that details still needed to be worked out and may not be completed in time.

BIDEN IS expected to land in Israel on Wednesday, placing the initial focus of his visit on the place where the least amount of progress is expected: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

He is expected to make the first-ever visit by a US president to an east Jerusalem neighborhood, when he visits Augusta Victoria Hospital, the largest Palestinian medical center in the city.

It’s also expected that Israel could announce concessions to the Palestinians during the visit.

Lapid’s call Friday with Abbas was the first conversation between an Israeli prime minister and the PA president in over five years.

“The two spoke about the continuation of cooperation and the need to ensure quiet and calm,” the Prime Minister’s Office said on Friday.

Abbas had congratulated Lapid upon becoming Israel’s 14th prime minister last week, it said.

High-level communication between Israel and the PA was severed during the time former US President Donald Trump was in office.

During the Obama administration, former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu had at times called Abbas with well-wishes for the holiday.

Communication was restored in the last year when Biden entered the White House and Netanyahu left office, but it had not occurred at the prime ministerial level.

Former prime minister Naftali Bennett had refused to meet or speak with Abbas, although he did allow Gantz to do so.

What about Bennett?

Bennett opposes the creation of a Palestinian state, whereas Lapid supports a two-state resolution to the conflict.

Lapid’s call angered the Right but provided a small wind of hope to the Left, which would like to see a revival of the peace process that has been frozen for over eight years.

“I would only do it if there was a chance of a positive result for Israel.”

Prime Minister Yair Lapid

BIDEN HAS not pursued a peace deal, and none was possible during Bennett’s tenure. Nor is it likely that Lapid, who is interim prime minister until a new government is formed in the next four to six months, would have enough time to finalize a peace process.

Still, the philosophical difference between the two men has led to speculation of movement on the Israeli-Palestinian track.

Frej tweeted that “it’s been an important 24 hours.”

He explained that “this coalition has swapped a policy of avoidance to a policy of dialogue and encourages conversation between leaders, the basis for diplomatic development.”

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked (Yamina) tweeted “I suggest letting go of this obsession to send Abu Mazen well wishes” given that “the man is set on prosecuting IDF soldiers in the ICC.”

During his trip to Paris earlier this week, Lapid told reporters that he was not opposed to a meeting with Abbas, but that such a face-to-face meeting was not on the agenda at the moment.

“I would only do it if there was a chance of a positive result for Israel,” Lapid said.

On Thursday in Ramallah, Gantz and Abbas discussed civil and security coordination. The meeting was held in “a good spirit and in a positive atmosphere,” according to Gantz’s office.

The defense minister updated the PA president on the “complexity” of the coming period in Israel. The two agreed to continue close security coordination and to avoid measures that would “harm stability.”

Gantz wished Abbas and the entire Palestinian people an Eid al-Adha Mubarak.

According to the Palestinian WAFA news agency, Abbas “stressed the importance of creating a political horizon, respecting signed agreements, and stopping the procedures and practices that lead to the deterioration of the situation.”

The Palestinian president stressed the need to “prepare the atmosphere” before Biden’s visit.

Reuters and Tzvi Joffre contributed to this report.