On Aug. 29, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz met with Palestinian Authority (P.A.) President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah. This meeting marked the first time in seven years that major Israeli and P.A. officials have met in person.
Why did they meet?
The purpose of the meeting was not discuss Israeli-Palestinian relations, but instead was meant to decide how Israel could help improve the West Bank’s crippled economy in the wake of COVID-19. COVID-19 took a serious toll on the West Bank’s economy, with an 11.5% decrease overall. Additionally, foreign aid to the P.A. was $30.2 million in 2021, a precipitous decline from the $300 million it received from Arab nations alone in 2019. The reduction of aid from Arab nations further endangered the West Bank’s economy after the Trump administration stopped funding the P.A.in early 2019.
What did Israel agree to do for the West Bank?
Israel committed to help stimulate the West Bank’s economy through financial aid and supporting public works, a territory East of Israel’s Capital, Jerusalem, and contains both Jewish-Israeli and Palestinian populations. The West Bank is governed by both the P.A. and the Israeli government. As the result of Gantz and Abbas’ meeting, the building of 1,000 Palestinian houses in Area C of the West Bank was approved. Area C is under Israel’s influence, while Area A is controlled by the P.A., and Area B is administered by Israel and the P.A. Israel granted 15,000 Palestinians with Israeli work permits, which provides a minimum wage of three times more than in Palestinian communities. Additionally, Israel plans to help the West Bank improve their communications technology by assisting in their switch from 3G to 4G. Finally, Israel loaned the P.A. $155 million.
In an effort to decrease tension in the West Bank, Israel gave more freedom for P.A. security forces to operate in Israeli controlled areas of the West Bank and agreed to conduct less raids in Palestinian controlled areas, Israel also granted residency to thousands of Palestinians who were previously excluded from legal status in the West Bank.
What do Palestinians and Israelis think about these new initiatives?
Israel’s efforts to improve the West Bank’s economy and overall quality of life in the area are largely supported by Palestinians. A Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research poll found that 56% of Palestinians supported Israel’s aide.
There is both support and contempt for the new negotiations. Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennet expressed general distaste for initiating new negotiations with the P.A. Bennet is the leader of an insatiable coalition in government, and depends on the right-wing ministers to maintain stability. However, Bennet does recognize that a stable West Bank is beneficial for Israel’s security, and therefore allowed the meeting to occur, and pledged to not annex more territory of the West Bank. Additionally, Abbas received internal criticism for not pressing Israel hard enough for more autonomy in the West Bank.
What does Israel’s new aid mean for Israeli-Palestinian relations?
The Aug. 29 meeting was the first time that high-level Israeli and P.A. leaders met in person in nearly a decade, and therefore represents a significant improvement in communications between the two governments. Additionally, the economic aid Israel agreed to provide as well as new commitments to increasing Palestinian quality of life in the West Bank demonstrates that Israel supports the PA as a governing body in the West Bank. Though Bennet and his
ministers do not want to increase the power of the P.A. and the Palestinian territories of the West Bank, the conclusion of the Gantz-Abbas meeting seems to have that effect.
However, one should not look too much in to the Gantz-Abbas meeting to predict future Israeli-Palestinian relations. The meeting did not address the fundamental dispute between Israel and the P.A. over rights to the West Bank. Gantz and Abbas met to discuss immediate problems, and fast-acting solutions were offered — nothing more, nothing less.
Bailey Pasternak is a freshman majoring in International Studies at Johns Hopkins. He is from Cleveland, OH and is a blog writer for the Hopkins Podcast on Foreign Affairs.