Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid leads a faction meeting in the Israeli parliament on january 02, 2017. Photo by Miriam Alster/FLASH90

What happened: Foreign Minister Yair Lapid met yesterday with Palestinian Authority (PA) Minister for Civil Affairs Hussein al-Sheikh.

  • Following the meeting, Minister al-Sheikh said on Twitter that the pair “discussed several political and bilateral issues. I have highlighted the need for a political horizon between the two parties based on international legitimacy”.
  • There was no formal comment from Lapid. This is the first meeting to be made public between Lapid and a senior Palestinian official. However, it is understood other meetings have taken place behind the scenes.
  • One of the main issues on the agenda is maintaining economic stability in the West Bank along with the continued security coordination between the IDF and Palestinian security forces. Al-Sheikh is formally responsible for the civilian and security coordination between the PA and Israel.

Context: Due to diverse opinions within the Israeli coalition, Prime Minister Naftali Bennet is not expected to enter political negotiations with the PA nor to attempt any annexation of the West Bank.

  • There have been no peace talks between the sides since 2014. However, the Israeli government recognises the benefits of enhancing political and economic stability in the West Bank, as well as building trust and offering confidence building measures (CMB).
  • Since the start of the Bennett-Lapid government, Defence Minister Gantz has met twice with PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, most recently hosting him in his home at the end of December.
  • It has been reported that Lapid met earlier this month with Majid Faraj, the PA’s chief of intelligence, who also attended the Gantz-Abbas meeting.
  • Following Gantz’s meeting, he approved a series of CBMs including:
    • Approving the status on a humanitarian basis for 6000 West Bank residents, and an additional status approval for 3500 Gaza residents;
    • Advancing the transfer of tax payments worth NIS 100 million;
    • An additional approval of 600 business cards for Palestinian businesspeople, 500 additional permits for businesspeople to enter Israel with their vehicles, and dozens of VIP permits for PA senior officials.
  • As with Gantz’s meeting, the Lapid-al-Sheikh meeting was also coordinated in advance with Prime Minister Bennett.
  • Last week Channel 12 News reported that in return for Israeli CBMs, Abbas suspended the activity of one of the teams working on collecting incriminating evidence against Israel that can be used in lawsuits at the International Criminal Court.
  • Last week Prime Minister Bennett said he believe that “business, the economy and jobs is the most sustainable way to bring stability,”  but added: “I won’t do anything that can threaten Israel’s security or weaken our ability to defend ourselves by ourselves. Ultimately, the Palestinians have a big choice to make whether want to go down the path of terror or peace and prosperity … we here are very positive about prosperity and people-to-people peace.”

Looking ahead: As part of Israeli CBMs, Minister al-Sheikh is expecting Israel to agree to release the names of 500 undocumented West Bank residents that would receive Palestinian identification cards.

  • Later this month Fatah will hold its eighth general conference. Minister al-Sheikh is among a small elite of senior PA official that hope to maintain their status and to position himself as a potential successor to PA Chairman Abbas.