Palestinian president, Israeli DM hold 1st high-level talks in years

Jerusalem: Israel's defence 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 hard-line policy toward the Palestinians, backed by former US President Donald Trump who had approved pro-Israeli policies such as moving the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to contested Jerusalem. Abbas halted most contacts with the US 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.

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