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Israel's PM and Palestinian president speak in rare phone call

Mahmoud Abbas also discussed security matters with Israeli defence minister and the need to avoid instability ahead of Joe Biden's visit to the Middle East
Palestine's President Mahmoud Abbas addresses the media in Nicosia, Cyprus on 14 June 2022 (AFP)

Israel's new prime minister, Yair Lapid, and President Isaac Herzog spoke on Friday with the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, in rare phone calls between the two parties.

Lapid's office said in a statement that he wished Abbas a happy Eid al-Adha and that they talked about "continuing the collaboration between the two sides and assuring calm and de-escalation", prior to US President Joe Biden's visit to the Middle East next week. Herzog also said that he discussed the visit of Biden with Abbas in a phone call.

Hussein al-Sheikh, head of the Palestinian Authority's General Authority of Civil Affairs, tweeted on Friday that "This afternoon, a phone call took place between President Abbas and the Israeli Prime Minister Lapid to congratulate Mr President on the blessed Eid al-Adha. They discussed the latest situation briefly."

Lapid and Herzog's phone calls to Abbas come less than 24 hours after the visit of Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz to Ramallah, where he held talks with Abbas late on Thursday.

Gantz, a former army chief of staff who heads the centrist Blue and White party, met Abbas to "discuss security and civilian coordination ahead of the visit of US President Biden to Israel", according to a statement from the minister's office.

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"The meeting was conducted in positive terms. The parties discussed regional civilian and security challenges [and] agreed to continue security coordination and to avoid activities that may cause instability." 

Palestinian news agency Wafa said that Abbas told Gantz that it was important to "create a political horizon and respect the agreements signed, stopping procedures and practices that would lead to the deterioration of the situation".

Abbas also stressed the importance of creating a "calm atmosphere before President Biden's visit, which we welcome".

Their meeting, the third since August last year and the first since Lapid took over as caretaker prime minister in Israel, comes less than a week before Biden's first Middle East tour as US president.

Israel's Ministry of Defence is the de facto ruler of the occupied West Bank. The PA's General Authority of Civil Affairs coordinates security and civilian matters with Israel's Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (Cogat), which is a unit in the military.

Abbas last met Gantz in December, in the defence minister's home in the central town of Rosh HaAyin, marking his first formal meeting in Israel since 2010.

Biden is due to visit Israel and the occupied West Bank from 13-15 July, and is expected to hold talks with Abbas and Lapid before heading to Saudi Arabia.

Lapid's predecessor, Naftali Bennett, founder of the right-wing Yamina party, had refused to meet Abbas in person. However, following his visit to Paris this week, where he met French President Emmanuel Macron, Lapid said he did not rule out a meeting with the Palestinian president but it was "not a priority" as Israel gears up for its fifth elections in three years, on 1 November.

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