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8 Jul, 2022 15:59

Israeli and Palestinian leaders have first conversation in years

The call came ahead of US leader Joe Biden's trip to the region
Israeli and Palestinian leaders have first conversation in years

Israeli PM Yair Lapid has called Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to discuss security ahead of next week’s visit by US President Joe Biden to Israel and the West Bank. 

Lapid, serving in a caretaker capacity until the country once again attempts to vote in a new government in November, spoke with his Palestinian counterpart on Friday about “the continuation of cooperation and the need to ensure quiet and calm,” according to a statement from his office.

Abbas also met with Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz at his headquarters in Ramallah on Thursday, a meeting that reportedly “went well” and ended with the pair agreeing to “avoid any steps that undermine stability,” according to the Defense Ministry. Abbas and Gantz have met more than once since the most recent Israeli government was formed and last year announced a program to improve economic conditions in the West Bank, although it’s not clear how much of that has been enacted. 

The Palestinian Authority leader also reportedly spoke to Israeli President Isaac Herzog on the phone. 

Biden is visiting Israel and Palestine next week and expects to meet with leaders of both. An adviser to Abbas has told Israeli media that the Palestinian leader aims to use the US president’s visit as an opportunity to try to change the diplomatic situation between Israel and Palestine – a tall order given that the official peace process collapsed over a decade ago. 

Abbas’ reported plans represent a major about-face for the Palestinian Authority, which stopped taking calls from Washington during the Trump administration after the former president moved the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv, the country’s internationally-recognized capital, to Jerusalem, which it considers its rightful capital. There are few indications the Biden administration is rushing to return things to the pre-Trump status quo, however, with no discussion of even opening a Palestinian consulate in Jerusalem. 

Despite what some may see as signs of a thaw between the Israeli and Palestinian leaders, violence between the two states shows no signs of stopping. According to the United Nations, Israel killed 46% more Palestinians in 2021 than it had in 2020, a statistic that has alarmed officials. Amnesty International labeled Israel an apartheid state in February, becoming the fourth major human rights organization to do so.

Israel annexed the West Bank following the 1967 war and has constructed a massive wall to “protect” desirable enclaves of the Palestinian territory they have claimed as their own settlements. The two-state solution that was, until recently, favored by the international community would return Israel to its pre-1967 borders and allow Palestine an independent state in Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.