Gantz: We can leverage the Abraham Accords to strengthen the Palestinian Authority

Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Thursday expressed support for using Israel’s new ties with several Arab countries to strengthen the Palestinian Authority, a first for a senior Israeli official.

“I believe that we can leverage the Abraham Accords and ties with regional partners to strengthen the Palestinian Authority and promote confidence-building measures,” he said in a live interview with the Aspen Security Forum.

“We need, we can and we must take advantage of [our new Mideast allies] to support these trends in terms of investment in the [PA]“, said Gantz during an interview with journalist Jeffrey Goldberg at the event in Colorado.

Israel forged ties with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain in the US-brokered Abraham Accords in 2020, and normalized relations with Morocco and Sudan soon after. Israel already had ties with Egypt and Jordan.

Gantz’s view that the accords could be used to bolster the PA has been regularly voiced by the Biden administration in response to criticism from the left that the accords are an attempt to circumvent the Palestinians.

The Palestinians have long demanded their own state before Israel was accepted in the region, and have called the Abraham Accords “shameful” and a betrayal of their cause.

Gantz’s comments on Thursday appeared to be the clearest statement from a senior Israeli official linking the accords to advancing the Palestinian issue. Prime Minister Yair Lapid has shown his willingness to link the two areas behind closed doors, notably by agreeing at the Negev summit last March, when he was foreign minister, that each of the forum’s six working groups seek also means to strengthen the Palestinians.

The stance also appeared to run counter to the views of the previous government led by Benjamin Netanyahu, which boasted of circumventing and weakening the PA, including through the Abraham Accords. Trump administration officials, who brokered the deals, offered similar insights.

Gantz also expressed pride in having met with PA President Mahmoud Abbas three times in the past year and coming up with what he called 30 confidence-building measures to boost the Palestinian economy. . Ramallah argued that many of these initiatives, however, have not been implemented.

The defense minister said in Thursday’s interview that he told Abbas during one of their meetings: ‘I dream you won’t be here and I’m sure you had the exact same dream. about me. But guess what, we’re both here and we have to find ways to live next to each other.

Closing their talks at the Negev summit, Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid al-Zayani, left, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Morocco’s Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita and the United Arab Emirates’ Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan pose for a photo Monday, March 28, 2022, in Sde Boker, Israel. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, Pool)

He called for new investments in strategic dialogue, infrastructure, stability, security and economic prosperity in the West Bank.

“Then hopefully we can create later… what I call a two-entity situation,” Gantz said, avoiding the term “two-state solution.” The rhetorical decision seemed like an effort to put himself to the right of Lapid and others on the left who openly support the two-state framework.

“I want to make sure that Israel remains strong, secure, democratic and Jewish and that means we’re going to have to resolve our issues with the Palestinians,” Gantz said.

He said he had “blocked the threat of annexation” of West Bank lands under the previous government under Netanyahu, which abandoned the effort in exchange for normalization with the United Arab Emirates.

“If we had annexed these areas, I don’t think we could have practically moved forward with [the] Abraham Accords,” Gantz said.

Gantz claimed that Israel and its new partners in the Middle East were also “creating a regional architecture for defense,” in an apparent reference to the integrated air defense network he has spoken of in recent months.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. (AP/Gluing)

Other countries have been more reluctant to discuss the initiative. White House officials said the integrated network was still ongoing and Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal said on Saturday he was not aware of any discussion of such an effort involving Israel.

Gantz said on Thursday that Israel had taken part in 10 multinational military exercises since the signing of the Abraham Accords, and since Israel was transferred from the US Army’s Europe-focused EUCOM group to its CENTCOM area of ​​responsibility. , which includes other countries in the Middle East.

“There have been hundreds of meetings and discussions with regional partners,” Gantz said.

“I am very pleased that the United States has taken the lead in this initiative and that leaders in the region have understood and seized this opportunity. We are creating a better Middle East,” he said. “The State of Israel and its partners in the region have a common interest in maintaining freedom of navigation and trade, providing air defense and strengthening our cyber defense.”

“Freedom of navigation” appears to refer to a deal put forward by the United States last week that will see Egypt transfer a pair of Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia. The agreement was conditional on ensuring that Israel would continue to have freedom of navigation around the islands of Tiran and Sanafir, as agreed in the 1979 peace treaty between Israel and Egypt.

Saudi Arabia has also agreed to open its airspace to all Israeli overflights and is expected to allow direct flights between Israel and Saudi Arabia for Muslim pilgrims. While Israel and the US have called the moves a first step towards Saudi-Israeli normalization, Saudi Arabia has denied it and said it will not make peace with Israel until it does. there is a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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