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Relations between new Israeli government and Palestinian Authority shift substantially

Relations between the new Israeli governmentand the Palestinian Authority have shifted substantially in recent weeks, with Israeli officials going so far as to call it “a renaissance."

Why it matters: During Benjamin Netanyahu's 12-year tenure as prime minister, relations deteriorated to the point where there was almost no contact other than security coordination.

State of play: In the last month, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has held four phone calls with senior Israeli officials — two with President Isaac Herzog, one with Defense Minister Benny Gantz and one with Public Security Minister Omer Bar Lev.

  • Abbas had last spoken to an Israeli minister in July 2017, when Netanyahu called him over a crisis at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
  • Meetings took place Wednesday between the Palestinian and Israeli ministers of health and environmental protection, the first such meetings in several years.

Driving the news: The Israeli government also announced Wednesday that it had agreed to a request by the Palestinian Authority to issue 15,000 new permits for Palestinians to work in Israel.

Between the lines: One reason for the shift is the participation of left-wing parties in the coalition. Minister for Regional Cooperation Issawi Frej, a Palestinian Israeli, is the driving force behind it.

  • Bennett, a right-wing hardliner, hasn't spoken to Abbas himself, but he also hasn't objected to the renewal of dialogue.
  • He supports cooperation with the PA on economic and civilian issues, but he opposes any new political negotiations.

What they're saying:

  • “The political echelon signals it is much more interested in moving things forward with the Palestinians, and after many years, talking to Abbas is legitimate again," an Israeli official who deals with Israeli-Palestinian relations told me.
  • Palestinian Civilian Affairs Minister Hussein al-Sheikh said in an interview with The Media Line last week that he hopes the new Israeli government will change the atmosphere and restore confidence between the Palestinians and the Israelis.
  • “My personal opinion is that going forward, it could not be worse than the period of Netanyahu’s rule in Israel," he said.

What’s next: With the PA in a deep economic crisis, the governments are negotiating a package of confidence-building measures that will improve the atmosphere and help the Palestinian economy, Israeli officials say.

  • Yes, but: There will be a big test on Aug. 1. Israel is expected to deduct $30 million from the tax revenues it collects on behalf of the Palestinians over the stipends paid by the PA to Palestinian prisoners convicted of terror attacks against Israelis.
  • The government is obligated to do so by Israeli law, and the step could derail the progress made in recent weeks.

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