A senior Biden administration official visiting Israel this week urged security officials to advance steps to strengthen the Palestinian Authority amid growing concerns the PA is on the verge of collapse, an official familiar with the matter told The Times of Israel on Saturday.
US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Israeli and Palestinian Affairs Hady Amr delivered the message in several meetings with Israeli officials, including one with senior IDF brass, the official said, confirming a Channel 13 report.
Amr said the US expected Israel to move forward with previously pledged projects to improve Palestinian livelihood and strengthen the Palestinian economy, the official said.
Amr’s concern regarding the PA came after Shin Bet chief Ronen Bar earlier this week warned Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu that the Palestinian government could collapse, causing a security deterioration.
Israeli security officials have warned in recent months that the PA is losing control of the northern West Bank, particularly in the cities of Nablus and Jenin.
A complete collapse or dismantling of the PA would create heavy demands on Israel, forcing it to take charge of both security and civilian affairs in areas it currently controls.
The IDF has long credited its security coordination with the PA for preventing terror attacks in the West Bank and Israel, and more recently Israeli security officials have noted the crucial role PA police played in the clamping down on the Lion’s Den terror group in the northern West Bank.
But Ramallah and Washington have maintained that security coordination cannot take place in a vacuum and must be complemented with steps that bolster the PA’s economic and diplomatic stature — steps that Israel will likely be less willing to take once Netanyahu’s expected right-religious government takes power.
Eyeing the role of defense minister is Religious Zionism chairman Bezalel Smotrich, who has spoken in support of dissolving the PA and annexing large parts of the West Bank while not granting Palestinians in those areas equal rights.
Meeting Netanyahu earlier this week, US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides hinted at the Biden administration’s opposition to Smotrich’s appointment to the senior post, according to an official familiar with the matter.
Nides did not mention Smotrich by name, but urged Netanyahu to carefully consider who he picks for the senior post, given the ramifications the appointment will have on Israel’s policies in the West Bank, the official said.
Smotrich’s insistence on securing the appointment has led to a standstill in coalition negotiations with Netanyahu, who reportedly told the far-right lawmaker that he needs to be careful with who he taps as defense minister, given the Biden administration’s expectation that Israel maintain moderate policies regarding settlement construction and treatment of the Palestinians.
Otzma Yehudit party leader Itamar Ben Gvir, who ran in this year’s election with Religious Zionism, has demanded the Public Security Ministry, which oversees the police. The posting has worried Israel’s opposition as well as international observers in light of the far-right lawmaker’s incendiary background, which includes convictions for supporting a terror group and incitement to racism.