Concern in Israel and US over future of PA after Abbas leaves

July 19, 2021 by Baruch Yedid - TPS
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The visit of Hady Amr, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Israeli and Palestinian Affairs in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs within the Department of State, to Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) last week, led to a renewed discussion on the future of the PA the day after Mahmoud Abbas leaves.

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a meeting of the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank city of Ramallah, August 18, 2020. Photo by Flash90.

In a pessimistic report that Amr sent to Israel about the PA’s poor economic and political situation, he expressed concern about the PA’s ability to continue to exist, and as a result, Arab and PA officials report that Israel and the PA are expected to hold a dialogue soon.

The Minister for Regional Cooperation, Issawi Frij from Meretz, who according to Arab sources is expected to lead a Palestinian-Israeli dialogue under the US’ auspices, wrote on his Twitter account over the weekend that “in recent weeks I spoke with a number of senior Palestinian Authority officials and the feeling is difficult. The PA is on the verge of an economic and social abyss, we must not ignore it, it is our duty to act.”

Palestinian sources claim that Frij is expected to lead ministerial talks with Hussein al-Sheikh, the PA minister for civilian affairs, on a range of civilian issues.

Frij’s spokesman told TPS that he met with Palestinian officials but the discourse is economic, civilian, and not political.

Commentator Ariv Rantawi says Amr said he had never seen the PA in such a bad situation, and found it in a stifling economic crisis, threatening its ability to pay salaries, under an internal political crisis and under problems that threaten its legitimacy.

The newspaper Al-Sharq Al-Awsat says that the US is not promoting a diplomatic plan on the understanding that this is a very heavy burden on the Bennett-Lapid government, and that the talks will be held on civilian issues with the aim of building trust between the parties. However, Palestinian sources express concern that talks on such matters are insufficient and in the absence of a political breakthrough, the situation of the Palestinian Authority will continue to be difficult.

Palestinian sources told the newspaper that the Palestinian Authority would hold a dialogue with Israel at the US’ request, adding “the issue was discussed with the US envoy, who confirmed that Washington supports such a dialogue and will support it from a distance.” Sources added that “Washington will not propose a political initiative now as the political structure in Israel cannot bear the pressure and therefore it prefers a bilateral dialogue designed to promote confidence-building measures.”

A senior Palestinian Authority official stated that the US-Israeli plan, discussed with Palestinian officials, focuses on the future of the PA after Abbas’ departure and is intended to provide new sources of financial support for the PA and strengthen its security mechanisms to prevent the situation from deteriorating.

In Washington, it is hoped that the meetings between the Palestinians and the Israelis will help break the current stalemate and build a foundation of trust and relations that will make it possible to resume political negotiations in the future. The dialogue is not expected to deal with political negotiations or key issues but will focus on strengthening the Palestinian Authority politically and economically.

Palestinian sources stressed that the most important thing for the Americans is the future of the PA after the departure of Mahmoud Abbas, 85, who is not in good health.

Arab newspapers say that Israel and the USA are currently considering a series of measures designed to strengthen the PA, and last week it was revealed that the Authority passed 30 conditions designed to resume trust with Israel that included relief in taxation, changes to Paris agreements regulating the economic ties, permits for economic projects in Area C and more.

The Al-Quds Al-Arabi newspaper reported on a European and American effort to appoint a deputy in the Palestinian Authority as part of a mechanism that would allow a change of leadership in the Palestinian Authority and prevent shocks, ahead of political negotiations, while the Al-Arabi Al-Jadid newspaper reports that regional officials are pressuring the PA to bring about reforms in the Palestinian security forces, especially in light of the violence against PA residents following the protests that developed with the death of Nizar Banat, a political activist.

On top of all this, Palestinian sources claim that there has recently been a European effort to bring about the establishment of a Palestinian expert government. According to sources, elements in Europe have begun contacts and meetings with Palestinian public figures and former senior officials who have held key positions in the Palestinian Authority, with the aim of establishing an independent Palestinian expert government, which will address a number of key issues. The understanding among many elements in the international community is that it will not be possible to move forward as long as Abbas continues to control the Palestinian system. Among other things, sources in Europe say that it is Abbas who is preventing the end of the split between the Gaza Strip and the PA territories, which is hindering any progress towards a political process vis-à-vis Israel. In Europe, it is even believed that it is Abbas who is now also thwarting efforts to rehabilitate the Gaza Strip, another condition for a political breakthrough.

In recent meetings, Palestinian public figures and political activists have been called upon to form an expert government, despite expected opposition from Fatah and Abbas’ entourage.

A very senior PA official, however, said in reference to this issue that there are elements in the Fatah Central Committee who believe that in the current circumstances the prime minister’s portfolio should not be accepted and they should allow the formation of a unity government with Hamas or an independent government under Fatah leadership.

Now the PA is denying the things. On Friday, Fatah Central Committee member Hussein al-Sheikh denied reports that Abbas had made a decision to fire Muhammad A-Shtiyya’s government and form a new government after reports in the media in recent days that Abbas intended to form a new government including names of those close to Hamas. The reports claim that Ziad Abu Amer is the candidate to head the 19th Palestinian government.

Commentator Najib Faraj estimates that there is a clear and explicit position at the top of Fatah, according to which the current prime minister’s status as a member of the Central Committee should not be harmed and there is no intention to see him as a scapegoat.

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