Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s meeting in his Rosh Ha’ayin home Tuesday evening with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas neither heralds peace lurking around the corner nor portends a massive Israeli withdrawal from Judea and Samaria.
What it does do is make good common sense.
Abbas is no lover of Zion. His history of Holocaust denial is despicable. His paying hundreds of millions of dollars to terrorists and their families is unconscionable, and his libel of Israel is contemptible. Yet he and the PA he heads are still better from an Israeli perspective than the Hamas alternative.
And make no mistake. If the PA goes down, those likely to come in its stead are not going to be benevolent actors. Just look at what happened in Gaza.
Israel has an interest in propping up the PA, as flawed and corrupt as it is, because security cooperation with the PA is important in keeping a lid on the violence in the West Bank, and because there must be an address if and when the time does come for serious diplomatic discussions. That address can only be the PA; it can’t and won’t be Hamas.
You cannot prop up those with whom you don’t interact, so dialogue is important and necessary.
As President Isaac Herzog rightly said, “I certainly think this dialogue is positive, and I think the very fact of the meeting is important and correct, especially during a challenging security period in Judea and Samaria. The security cooperation is an essential part in the war on terror.”
Certainly, with tension on the rise in Judea and Samaria, as Hamas wants to fan the flames as a way of challenging not only Israel but also Abbas, a meeting at the highest level to discuss ways to tamp down the tension is smart. Gantz, as the defense minister with overall administrative responsibility over the territories, is a logical person to host these meetings.
Immediately following the meeting, Israel announced several confidence-building measures toward the Palestinians. These include the approval of NIS 100 million in tax payments Israel collects for the PA, legalizing the status of 9,500 undocumented Palestinians and foreigners in the West Bank and Gaza, and 1,100 business passes to senior businesspeople. These moves are welcome, but Israel should make clear that this is a two-way street; that if it takes steps to build Palestinian confidence, the Palestinians need to reciprocate by taking steps to build Israeli confidence as well.
The most obvious step would be to stop paying stipends to terrorists sitting in Israeli jails. But since that is not going to happen anytime soon, there are other steps that the Palestinians could take to signal to Israelis that they, too, want to put relations on a better footing.
One such step would be to stop slandering Israel from every international stage. If Israelis would hear Abbas and other senior PA officials speak about a desire for reconciliation without demonizing the Jewish state, that would go far toward building Israeli confidence.
While Gantz is certainly a logical choice to be meeting with Abbas, he is by no means the most logical choice. That would be Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. But Bennett has said he will not be meeting the Palestinian leader.
We get it: Bennett is against a two-state solution. He thinks it is both unrealistic and a terrible mistake, and doesn’t want to do anything to promote it.
But Bennett also understands that he just can’t wish the Palestinian issue away. Rather, he has endorsed a policy of “shrinking the conflict,” saying he wants to improve the economic situation for the Palestinians, make their lives easier, and improve economic conditions in the West Bank. To do even that, however, he should be meeting with Abbas.
Neither Bennett nor Israel gains anything by boycotting the PA president. On the contrary, it makes Israel appear as the recalcitrant party in this conflict, which is an inaccurate reflection of reality.
Even if Israel believes peace is but a distant mirage, it – and its leader – must strive to be seen in the eyes of the world as the party trying to make that mirage real.