Israel’s PM criticises his defence minister for meeting with Palestinian president

Event at Gantz’s home was first time Abbas had crossed into Israel for talks in a decade

Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett has criticised his own defence minister, Benny Gantz, for hosting Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas at Mr Gantz's home in central Israel on Tuesday night, marking the first time the Palestinian leader has crossed into Israel for talks in a decade.

Unlike Mr Gantz, who is head of the centrist Blue and White group, Mr Bennett, who was informed in advance about the meeting, opposes efforts to revive peace talks with Palestinians.

Other right-wing members of the Israeli government also criticised the talks, accusing Mr Gantz of undermining the stability of Israel’s wafer-thin governing coalition.

Mr Gantz and Mr Abbas had met in August in Mr Abbas’s Ramallah headquarters, marking the first such top-level contact since Mr Bennett’s wide coalition government was formed in June.

“Minister Gantz emphasised the parties’ shared interest in deepening security co-ordination, maintaining regional stability and preventing terror and violence,” an Israeli defence ministry statement said following Tuesday’s talks.

Following the meeting, Israel approved additional "confidence-building measures" including authorising the status of 6,000 Palestinian residents of the West Bank and another 3,500 Gaza residents and approving the transfer of additional tax payments to the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority.

Extra permits were also granted for Palestinian businesspeople and VIPs to cross into Israel.

Palestinian minister for civil affairs Hussein al-Sheikh said the meeting “dealt with the importance of creating a political horizon that leads to a political solution in accordance with international legitimacy”.

However, the Israeli-Palestinian peace track all but collapsed in 2014 and there is little chance that the process will be revived given the fragility of the Israeli coalition.

Consulate moves

In order to grant Mr Abbas the semblance of a diplomatic achievement, the administration of US president Joe Biden had announced its intention to reopen the US consulate for Palestinians in Jerusalem, which was closed by his predecessor Donald Trump.

However, after warnings that such a move could jeopardise the stability of the Bennett coalition and risk the return of Binyamin Netanyahu to power, the consulate plans appear to be on hold. Palestinians may have to suffice with the reopening of a diplomatic mission in Washington.

Mr Netanyahu's opposition Likud condemned Tuesday's meeting. "Bennett's Israeli-Palestinian government is putting Abbas back on the agenda. Dangerous concessions that will jeopardise Israel's security are only a matter of time," a Likud statement said.

Hamas, which rules Gaza, also condemned the meeting, describing it as "disgraceful" and a "crime".

“Abbas’s meeting with the Zionist minister of war Gantz was obscene and deviates from the national spirit of our Palestinian people,” a Hamas statement said. “The meeting occurred at the same time that settlers were attacking our people in the West Bank; that served only to deepen the crime of the Palestinian leadership.”