PALESTINIAN President Mahmud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid.
PALESTINIAN President Mahmud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid.

RAMALLAH: Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas spoke with Israel’s prime minister on Friday after a rare meeting with the Jewish state’s defence minister, days ahead of US President Joe Biden’s regional visit.

The phone call between Abbas and Prime Minister Yair Lapid took place early in the morning, according to a statement by the premier’s office, and was the first conversation between the two leaders since Lapid took over from Naftali Bennett last week.

“The two spoke about the continuation of cooperation and the need to ensure quiet and calm,” Lapid’s office said.

The telephone call came shortly after a rare meeting between Israel’s Defence Minister Benny Gantz and Mahmud Abbas in Ramallah, headquarters of the Palestinian Authority in the occupied West Bank, six months after the two officials last held talks in Israel.

Gantz travelled to Ramallah to mark Eidul Azha and “discuss security and civilian coordination ahead of the visit of US President Biden to Israel”, Gantz’s office said in a brief statement.

The meeting came less than a week before Biden visits as part of his first Middle East tour as US president.

Abbas “stressed the importance of creating a political horizon” between Israelis and Palestinians and “the need to create a (positive) atmosphere before the visit of President Biden”, the official Palestinian news agency WAFA said.

“The meeting was conducted in positive terms,” Gantz’s office said. “The parties discussed regional civilian and security challenges (and) agreed to continue security coordination and to avoid activities that may cause instability.”

Mahmud Abbas and Benny Gantz, a former Israeli army chief who heads the centrist Blue and White party, met in December in Israel, sparking a heated debate in Israeli political circles.

Lapid’s predecessor Bennett refused to meet Abbas.

Biden is due to visit Israel and the occupied West Bank from July 13 to 15, and plans to hold talks with Lapid and Abbas before heading to Saudi Arabia.

After a visit to Paris this week, where he met French President Emmanuel Macron, Lapid said he did not rule out a meeting with Abbas, but said it was “not a priority” in the run-up to Israeli elections on Nov 1.

Published in Dawn, July 9th, 2022

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