JERUSALEM: Israel’s defence minister approved a raft of measures aimed at improving relations with the Palestinians on Wednesday following a rare meeting with Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas in Israel.
Defence Minister Benny Gantz met Abbas at his private residence in a Tel Aviv suburb late on Tuesday night. It was the first time Abbas met an Israeli official inside Israel since 2010.
The two discussed security coordination between Israel and Abbas’ Palestinian Authority, which administers pockets of the occupied West Bank.
Gantz’s office said he approved confidence-building measures (CBM) including the transfer of tax payments to the Palestinian Authority, the authorisation of hundreds of permits for Palestinian merchants and VIPs, and approving residency status for thousands of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Israel collects hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes on behalf of the PA as part of the interim peace agreements signed in the 1990s.
The tax transfers are a key source of funding for the cash-strapped Palestinians, but Israel has withheld funds over the PA’s payment of stipends to thousands of families that have had relatives killed, wounded or imprisoned in the conflict.
Israel claims the payments incentivise terrorism, while the Palestinians say they provide crucial support to needy families.
Israel approved residency for some 9,500 Palestinians.
Israel controls the Palestinian population registry, and over the years its policies have left an estimated tens of thousands of Palestinians without legal status, severely limiting their freedom of movement, even within the occupied territories.
Israel granted legal status to some 4,000 Palestinians in October.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is opposed to Palestinian statehood. His government has shown no interest in reviving peace talks, which broke down more than a decade ago, but has said it wants to reduce tensions by improving living conditions in the West Bank.