Israel girding for possible Palestinian Authority collapse — report

Netanyahu, defense establishment said to tell top ministers to take proactive approach to bolster Ramallah and prevent dissolution of governing body

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly government conference in Jerusalem on January 3, 2016. (Photo by Alex Kolomoisky/POOL)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly government conference in Jerusalem on January 3, 2016. (Photo by Alex Kolomoisky/POOL)

High-level government officials have reportedly been meeting to discuss the potential collapse of the Palestinian Authority, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructing ministers to act to prevent the break up of the West Bank governing body.

Netanyahu told the security cabinet Monday that Israel must take steps to avert the collapse, but also warned them to prepare for a worst-case scenario, the Haaretz newspaper reported Tuesday.

“We must prevent the Palestinian Authority from collapsing if possible, but at the same time, we must prepare in case it happens,” the paper reported him as telling the closed meeting of top ministers.

According to the report, the security cabinet — tasked with outlining and implementing foreign and defense policy — has held two meetings over the past ten days to discuss the possibility of the PA’s collapse. The discussions come as a wave of terror continues across the country and amid rumors of a political crisis within the Palestinian government.

The meetings dealt with defense establishment assessments that the Palestinian Authority was “liable” to collapse or disintegrate and that such a scenario would create strenuous demands on Israel, forcing it to take charge of both security and civilian affairs in areas currently controlled by the PA.

An anonymous source privy to the cabinet discussions said the defense establishment’s recommendation was “to adopt an official policy of preventing such a collapse.” According to the source, Netanyahu has adopted the proposal, “not just to say we aren’t interested in a collapse, but to make gestures and take steps on the ground that will stave off the materialization of such a scenario.”

It was not immediately clear what steps were being considered and there was no official confirmation of Netanyahu’s comments.

According to the report, some in the nine-member panel, which includes members of the right-wing Jewish Home party, are reportedly opposed to strengthening the PA and prefer its collapse.

PA officials, including President Mahmoud Abbas, have warned several times in recent months that the PA could be dismantled in the absence of a peace process.

With little hope on both sides for a resumption of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, Abbas has faced fierce calls to resign his position as President of the PA and call new elections, which have been put off since 2009.

On Saturday, exiled former Fatah party official Mohammad Dahlan called Abbas a “failure” and charged in a Washington Post interview that the elderly statesman’s approach toward peace negotiations with Israel had been utterly unsuccessful.

“No Palestinian in the past, present or future will be as easy with the Israelis as [Abbas],” Dahlan said. He asserted that Israel and Netanyahu could afford to stall talks and continue their policies in the West Bank unabated because the current Palestinian leadership was weak and “compliant.”

Secretary of State John Kerry addresses the Brookings Institution's annual Saban Forum on December 5, 2015 (YouTube screen capture)
Secretary of State John Kerry addresses the Brookings Institution’s annual Saban Forum on December 5, 2015 (YouTube screen capture)

In December, US Secretary of State John Kerry warned against moves to weaken the PA, describing the situation as teetering on the brink of disaster.

“Some officials in Israel have reportedly argued that it may not be in Israel’s interest to have a Palestinian Authority,” he said at the Brookings Institution’s annual Saban Forum. He said that he knew that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had acknowledged the importance of having the Palestinian leadership remain intact, but noted that “circumstances force us to consider [the collapse of the Palestinian Authority] seriously, because there are valid questions as to how long the PA will survive if the current situation continues, mark my words.”

At the same time, Kerry slammed suggestions made by Palestinian leaders that the Palestinian Authority could be dissolved, and that Palestinians could end security cooperation with Jerusalem.

“Many of those arguing for the dissolution of the PA simply don’t believe in two states,” Kerry complained. “Many current Israeli ministers have been clear that they oppose the vision of a Palestinian state, not just now – but ever.”

Rebecca Shimoni Stoil contributed to this report.

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