In a rare, candid interview about Israeli thinking on the condition of the Palestinian Authority, a member of Israel’s security cabinet warned that the authority is already collapsing, and what follows will be “anarchy.”
“This is a reality we may wake up to tomorrow morning, within months or perhaps after a year or two of collapse,” Absorption Minister Ze’ev Elkin, a member of the security cabinet and considered close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, told the right-wing Makor Rishon newspaper for its weekend edition.
“In my view, the train has already left the station, and it’s important to understand that the post-Abbas era is around the corner. He’s grown tired and weak, and there are forces working against him,” Elkin said.
“In the [Palestinian] street, he is treated as a dead horse, and that’s part of the reason for the security situation we are going through,” Elkin added, a reference to a wave of Palestinian stabbing, shooting and car-ramming attacks since October. “He himself now understands that his threats to resign threaten his own rule first and foremost, so he now suddenly declares, ‘I’m here.'”
Meanwhile, the Palestinians are not immune to the influence of the Arab Spring, which has felled unelected leaders across the Arab world, and led to bloody civil wars in several countries, Elkin said.
Palestinians “see the same television and are susceptible to the same spirit as elsewhere in the region. It’s only a matter of time before the Arab Spring gets to them. It’s only natural that this will happen.”
Yet despite the signs that the PA’s collapse looms nigh, Elkin continued, “we haven’t sufficiently internalized” the significance of these developments.
A former chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and one-time deputy foreign minister, Elkin believes the Israeli defense establishment is not planning for what is to come.
“It’s not a question of understanding, but of internalizing. There is a basic mistake here of sticking one’s head in the sand and clinging to the existing situation, and this leads to blindness. But the writing is on the wall, and the Palestinian Authority will collapse in any case, without any connection to us.”
Of the many possible scenarios that may ensue from this collapse, he told Makor Rishon, the most likely is “anarchy.”
“There is almost zero chance that an heir will arise as [Abbas] did after Yasser Arafat. There isn’t anyone who can take the keys by consensus.”
Marwan Barghouti, the popular Fatah leader currently serving five life terms in an Israeli prison for murders committed during the Second Intifada, is unlikely to be released by Israel — “I hope,” Elkin added.
That leaves shared rule among many contenders to Abbas’s rule, which would be unprecedented in Palestinian history; a takeover by Hamas, which would be prevented by Israel; or the most likely scenario: “a war of all against all, a battle to inherit, and everything that flows from that.”
It’s a battle that “will require from us a more active stance, because it will mean the de facto collapse of the Palestinian Authority. There won’t be a single address or hierarchy to work with. The [Palestinian] security agencies will be fighting each other. It’s also possible that the security services, or parts of them, will turn their weapons against Israelis, as happened in the Second Intifada, or militias will arise who will fight for money.”
The collapse is certain, Elkin argues; its ramifications, for the moment at least, “are unknowable.”