In preparation for President Biden’s visit to the region, the Israeli government made sweeping concessions to the Palestinian Authority. These concessions, intended to appease the Biden administration, which had reestablished relations with the PA and Hamas and is pushing for a two-state solution, angered the right-wing (as was anticipated) and the left-wing, and the Arabs.
Benny Gantz, the head of the Blue and White alliance and current deputy prime minister of Israel, met with Mahmoud Abbas, President of the PA, in Ramallah last week, preparatory to President Biden’s first visit to the region. Gantz said on Twitter that Thursday’s meeting in Ramallah “was conducted in positive terms” and that the two discussed “civilian and security challenges” in the region.
“We agreed to maintain close security coordination and to avoid actions that may cause instability,” Gantz said.
Abbas “stressed the importance of creating a political horizon, respecting signed agreements, and stopping actions and measures that lead to the deterioration of the situation,” Hussein al-Sheikh, a senior Palestinian official, said in a tweet.
Abbas also stressed the importance of having a “calm atmosphere before President Biden’s visit, which we welcome.”
It was the third known meeting between Abbas and Gantz since August last year.
It is now evident that they agreed to more than security arrangements. On Tuesday, the Office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) gave “approval of six zoning plans for Palestinians in the Judea and Samaria area,” Major General Rassan Alian stated Tuesday. “Validation is approved for the plans of Hizma and Harmala. Deposit is approved for the plans of Fukeikis, Hares, Kisan, and Battir.”
Area C constitutes about 61 percent of the West Bank territory; the area was committed in 1995 under the Oslo II Accord to be “gradually transferred to Palestinian jurisdiction,” but the PA rejected the Olo Accors before this transfer could be implemented.
In addition, Israel agreed to an additional 1,500 worker permits for Palestinians in Gaza, bringing the number of those who can hold jobs and engage in commerce in Israel to 15,000.
A new vehicular crossing – Salem – will be opened in the northern part of Samaria to ease the entry of Israeli Arabs into Jenin in Area A.
Israel will also grant residency status to 5,500 Palestinians who have moved to Judea and Samaria from Gaza or abroad.
Media reports did not specify what concessions the PA made in exchange.
On Tuesday, the chairman of the right-wing Otzma Yehudit party, MK Itamar Ben Gvir, slammed Gantz and the concessions.
“Leftist Benny Gantz harms the security of the State of Israel to please President Biden. Instead of worrying about the interest of the State of Israel, Gantz acts laxly and irresponsibly, and he calls this a trust-building relationship. There is no faith in those who call for the destruction of the State of Israel, headed by Abu Mazen, whom Gantz hosted at his home.
Ben Gvir also attacked Lapid for his decision to remove a building permit for 2,000 housing units in Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem from the agenda. He said, “The defense minister and the prime minister’s office are acting as if they were selling at the end of the season and abandoning state security before the election. Only the formation of a full right-wing government will stop this farce.”
Gush Etzion Regional Council Head Shlomo Ne’eman said that three of the zoning plans were in his region and that the fact that they were linked to communities in Areas A and B made them significant, giving the Palestinian Authority tacit approval to transfer Palestinians from Areas A and B to Area C to take over strategic swathes of land.
“This transfer de-facto puts Area C under the control of the PA,” Ne’eman said. “If the State of Israel has to pay such a steep price to welcome President Joe Biden, who needs a guest like this?”
Binyamin Regional Council head Israel Gantz warned that these concession in Area C “brings the establishment of a Palestinian state closer, and puts an arrow in the heart of Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria.”
He also questioned the legitimacy of the move.
“The transitional government has no mandate to take such irreversible steps and endanger the Jewish hold in the heart of the Land of Israel,” he said. “We will not allow this.”
Hagit Ofran of the far-left NGO Peace Now said the announced plans were not substantive. Israel has granted only a small number of development plans and permits for Palestinian construction in Area C, a move which the Left has argued has left the Palestinians little choice but to build illegally.
“These plans do not significantly change the situation in Area C” for Palestinians, she said. “There is no plan here for the recognition of Palestinian communities in Area C. All plans are for buildings on the outskirts of villages whose center is in Area B, and they have expanded since the 1995 Interim Agreement and should now be allowed some expansion.”
Despite the concessions, the meeting between Gantz and Abbas as unpopular with the Palestinians as security coordination requires the PA to share information about terrorists with Israel’s security forces.