The Irish Times view on Israel-Palestine: deadlock by default

The two sides are as far apart as they have ever been, with the Israelis under no pressure to countenance a diplomatic deal

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz met in Ramallah on Sunday to “discuss security-policy, civilian and economic issues”, Gantz’s Twitter account said. Photographs: Thaer Ghanaim, Menahem Kahana/ AFP via Getty Images

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz met in Ramallah on Sunday to “discuss security-policy, civilian and economic issues”, Gantz’s Twitter account said. Photographs: Thaer Ghanaim, Menahem Kahana/ AFP via Getty Images

 

Until Sunday’s meeting between Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli defence minister Benny Gantz, seven years had passed since the last encounter between Abbas and an Israeli minister. Relations deteriorated sharply in the final years of the Binyamin Netanyahu era. In 2018 the Palestinian Authority officially broke off all high-level contact with the Israeli leadership after then US president Donald Trump’s decision to move the US’s Israeli embassy to Jerusalem.

Yet while reopening lines of communication is better than the silence that preceded it, there is nothing to suggest the Abbas-Gantz meeting will lead to a resumption of broader discussions. On the contrary, the two sides are as far apart as they have ever been, with the Israelis in particular under no pressure to countenance a diplomatic deal.

Israel calculates that working with Abbas helps to avert the collapse of his Fatah government and its replacement by Hamas

While Netanyahu at several points in his time as prime minister had the political capital to seek a compromise but chose not to try, his successor Naftali Bennett, a right-winger who is close to the settler movement, leads a fragile multi-party coalition that would leave him with little room for manoeuvre even if he were inclined to reopen dialogue.

In order to stay together the diverse coalition he leads has in effect agreed to maintain deadlock – no annexation of the West Bank and no steps towards a Palestinian state. Bennett’s aides were quick to clarify, as if it were needed, that Gantz’s meeting in Ramallah focused on security cooperation and would not herald the beginning of a broader diplomatic process. Israel calculates that working with Abbas helps to avert the collapse of his Fatah government and its replacement by Hamas.

That pressure from Hamas limits Abbas’s options. After 16 years in power, the 85-year-old Palestinian leader refuses to allow an election that Fatah would probably lose. He has seen several Arab states establish diplomatic relations with Israel and knows that resolving the conflict is low on the priority list of President Joe Biden. All the while, the risk of violence remains and the humanitarian crisis in Gaza persists unaddressed.

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