Israeli Defense Minister Gantz defends controversial meeting with Abbas

“As defense minister, my job is to make sure the IDF is ready for war or battle. As a statesman, my job is to act to prevent war,” Benny Gantz said. 

By Gil Tanenbaum/TPS

Defense Minister Benny Gantz was forced to explain his decision to hold a face to face meeting with Palestinian Authority (PA) Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. On Monday, Gantz responded to a number of criticisms leveled against him at a meeting of Knesset members from his Blue and White Party.

Gantz met with Abbas last Tuesday night at his home in Rosh Ha’Ayin for what was described as “a discussion on a number of security and civilian topics.”

Minister Gantz was clearly bothered by people who in some way implied that his meeting with Abbas showed a lack of concern for Israeli security, or that he is too quick to make concessions to the PA.

“As defense minister, my job is to make sure the IDF is ready for war or battle. As a statesman, my job is to act to prevent war,” Gantz told those assembled. “The need to maintain the security of Israeli citizens and the fight against Hamas are the main reason why I met last week with the Chairman of the Palestinian Authority, and that is why I will continue to meet with him and other elements in the region whose dialogue helps our stability, security and interests.”

According to a statement by the Defense Ministry, at their meeting Gantz informed Abbas of “his intention to continue advancing confidence-building measures in economic and civilian areas.”

The measures Gantz authorized included status approvals “on a humanitarian basis” for 6,000 residents of Judea and Samaria in the PA’s Population Registry, and an additional status approval for 3,500 Gaza residents. And he also approved the transfer in advance of tax payments Israel collects on behalf of the PA at the sum of NIS 100 million.

On his critics, Gantz reminded his party faction that he is not just entrusted with the security of all of Israel, but he is also accountable for the safety of Israel’s soldiers. The Defense Minister said that he has, “heard the criticisms and I repeat – whoever is responsible for sending troops into battle is the one responsible for doing everything to prevent it.”

Gantz also stated that he was disappointed with government ministers who he said, “preferred to speak from a political position at the expense of security needs. In rooms, they also sound different. For me, wherever the political interest conflicts with security – security must always prevail.”

One such critic was Minister of Construction and Housing, Zeev Elkin from fellow coalition partner New Hope Party. Elkin told Israel Radio that he did, “not attach much importance to it [the meeting].”

Elkin was also bothered by the choice of location for the meeting saying that he would, “not invite someone to my home who pays salaries to Israeli murderers.” The PA has a policy of paying stipends to terrorists and their families, conduct Israel views as incentivizing terrorism.