Issawi Frej
Issawi Frej Hezki Baruch

Minister for Regional Cooperation Issawi Frej (Meretz) has revealed the plans of Israel's Defense Minister, Benny Gantz, to hold another meeting with the head of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, in the coming weeks.

In an interview with the Israel Hayom newspaper (which will be published in full this Friday), Frej said, "I am working to bring about the convening of the Israel-Palestine economic council. We shouldn't be afraid of holding meetings between Israeli and Palestinian ministers, but there are those in the government who are asking me not to convene the economic council - they're worried that it will turn into a political process.

"Two weeks ago," he added, "the Foreign Affairs & Defense Committee of the Knesset held a discussion on strengthening the Palestinian Authority, and next week, I am due to meet with the PA Minister for Finance & Economy, and Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas] is due to meet with [Defense Minister Benny] Gantz within the next few weeks. [Foreign Minister Yair] Lapid, too, is due to meet with the Palestinian Foreign Minister, and that should go some way to dissolving tensions."

According to Frej, "We are working to strengthen the PA and the Palestinian economy. This is in Israel's interest too."

Frej also responded to recent comments made by Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman, who accused Mahmoud Abbas of conducting "state terrorism."

"I do not agree with [Liberman]," Frej said. "I think he is making a mistake and that what he said is untrue. Abu Mazen is the best partner we have ever had, and we will come to regret it if we do not advance a political vision together with him."

Asked to comment on the recent exit of fellow Meretz party member Rinawie Zoabi from the coalition, followed by her return, Frej said, "I understand her although I think that she was too hasty and that this was her mistake. But she does realize how important it was for her to stand up for her values. Previously, she had sacrificed her ideals in order to benefit Arab society, and although this government is important to her, she has now decided to place Arab society at the head of her list of priorities.

"And she received a response," he adds, "as the moment she placed the problems of Arab society at the head of the list in importance, she got a serious response. Due to what Zoabi did, the Knesset Finance Committee released funding that had been held up. All Arab Knesset Members are asking for is that the funding promised should be delivered on."