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Abbas, Israeli DM Hold First High-level Talks in Years


In this Aug. 1, 2021, file photo, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz attends a cabinet meeting at the prime minister's office in Jerusalem. Gantz held talks late Sunday, August 29, 2021, with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Israel's defense minister held talks late Sunday with the Palestinian president in the first high-level meeting between the two sides in years, officials said.

The meeting between Benny Gantz and Mahmoud Abbas signaled a possible shift of direction after the near-complete breakdown of communication between Abbas and Israeli leaders in recent years, under former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Netanyahu pursued a hardline policy toward the Palestinians, backed by former U.S. President Donald Trump who had approved pro-Israeli policies such as moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to contested Jerusalem. Abbas halted most contacts with the U.S. and Israel during those years.

Netanyahu had repeatedly claimed Abbas was not a reliable partner for negotiating a peace deal, a portrayal dismissed by Netanyahu critics as a pretext for avoiding making concessions.

The Gantz-Abbas meeting came just after Israel's current prime minister, Naftali Bennett, was received at the White House by President Joe Biden. The Biden administration views Abbas as an essential player in any efforts to resume long-stalled talks on the terms of Palestinian statehood, even though Abbas is increasingly isolated an unpopular at home.

The Haaretz daily said the meeting took place in the town of Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where Abbas maintains his headquarters.

Gantz told Abbas that Israel would take measures to strengthen the Palestinian economy, according to a statement by Gantz' office. The economy of the Abbas-administered autonomous enclaves in the West Bank is dependent on Israel and has been stymied by movement restrictions Israel says are imposed for security reasons.

Hussein Sheikh, a top Abbas aide, confirmed the meeting in a statement on Twitter.

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