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Gantz: coordination with PA critical

It is imperative to “maintain coordination and cooperation” with the Palestinian Authority (PA) even “alongside deep and difficult disagreements,” said Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz.

By Jonathan Hessen and Erin Viner

“Like it or not, the Palestinian Authority is the legitimate and recognized leadership of our neighbors,” Gantz said during an address before the Knesset yesterday, ahead of a failed no-confidence vote by the political opposition over the government’s overt contacts with Ramallah.

Gantz stressed that all Israeli governments have maintained coordination and cooperation with the PA since its establishment despite ongoing disputes.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas agreed with him during their first meeting, Gantz said, when he told the Palestinian leader, “we will all have to sideline our dreams and understand that no one – certainly not us (Israel) – is going anywhere. He agreed, we will all stay here.”

Therefore, Gantz told the Israeli lawmakers, PA leaders are abundantly aware that in order to move forward and develop relations with Israel they “must step up efforts to stop terror attacks, end payment to families of terrorists and halt international prosecution against us. This was my demand, and we will persist onward to stand by these principles as part of conditions for progress on each path forward.”

Gantz, a former IDF Chief of Staff and leader of the centrist Blue and White political faction, reiterated Israel’s commitment to peace in spite of existential threats from the nation’s adversaries.

“Israel has many enemies, chiefly the Ayatollah regime in Iran, as well as Hezbollah, Hamas and other terrorist organizations. Facing them, we act with an iron fist, act and develop force-buildup for the hour of command. As someone who fought and led soldiers into battle for nearly 40 years, I remember very well the great responsibility that rests on my shoulders; to perpetually maintain preparedness for war and do everything possible to prevent it and strive for peace,” he said.

“Strengthening ties with the Palestinian Authority while maintaining our own position also contributes to our political and security relations,” said Israel’s top defense official, while pointing out that aspirations by the previous government to annex the West Bank were offset by the “positive move by former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu” to sign the 2020 Abraham Accords peace pacts with 4 Arab states. He went on to reveal that the subject of annexation has arisen “in every meeting and conversation I have had with American, European and other officials,” who he said “focus on this issue, inquire, show interest and reinforce these moves as such – which contribute to regional stability.”

Despite evident efforts to reengage with the PA, the Israeli Defense Minister acknowledged that the fragility of the government in Jerusalem does not allow for the advancement of political arrangements.

“It is true, today we face a reality of a complex government. However, in tandem, internal tensions do not grant us privileges to shake-off the political issue and certainly not from security necessities. We have a duty to turn every stone to strive for a reality that will provide a horizon and hope to all who reside between the Jordan (River) and the (Mediterranean) Sea, as well as beyond. No, at this stage we will not advance political arrangements. However, we must sustain a relationship that will allow for a political horizon; that will ensure our security, our international power and the continuation of the Zionist vision. Hand in hand with these needs we are committed to the safety of the settlers in Judea and Samaria. The IDF, Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and Israel Police work night and day to prevent terrorist attacks, to provide security as well as a sense of security to all residents in the sector,” he vowed.

In related developments, United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken held a telephone conversation with Palestinian President Abbas Monday night.

The two “discussed the importance of strengthening the US relationship with the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian people, as well as the need to improve quality of life for Palestinians in tangible ways,” said State Department Spokesperson Ned Price in a statement.

Washington’s top diplomat also spoke about “challenges facing the Palestinian Authority and the need for reform,” said Price, while “Secretary Blinken reiterated that Israelis and Palestinians alike deserve to live safely and securely, and enjoy equal measures of security, freedom, and prosperity, and reaffirmed the US administration’s commitment to a Two-State solution.”

Secretary Blinken also discussed Israeli-Palestinian issues during a call with Israeli Foreign Minister and Alternate Prime Minister Yair Lapid on Monday. Other topics, said Spokesperson Price, included the “strong US-Israel relationship and shared challenges, including the risks of further Russian aggression against Ukraine as well as the threats posed by Iran. Secretary Blinken reiterated the Administration’s steadfast commitment to Israel’s security.”