Sep 7, 2022 - World

U.S. urges Israel to take steps to stabilize Palestinian Authority

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Photo: Uriel Sinai/Getty Images

The Biden administration urged the Israeli government to take urgent steps to stabilize the Palestinian Authority, which officials say is increasingly weakening and losing its control in the occupied West Bank, two Israeli officials told me.

Why it matters: U.S. officials are deeply concerned that the deteriorating situation in the West Bank and an increase in violence could lead to a major crisis.

  • At the same time, an economic crisis has made it hard for the PA to pay salaries, further eroding its legitimacy and control in major cities like Hebron, Jenin and Nablus.

Driving the news: Barbara Leaf, the State Department’s most senior diplomat for the Middle East, visited Israel and the Palestinian Authority late last week and met with senior Israeli and Palestinian officials.

  • Shin Bet director Ronen Bar, who leads the Israeli domestic security service in charge of gathering intelligence in the West Bank and Gaza, told Leaf he is highly concerned about the PA's situation and the ability of the Palestinian security forces to function, Israeli sources briefed on the meeting said. Palestinian leadership blames Israel for the weakened security forces.
  • “The situation on the ground is worse than it seems," Bar told Leaf, according to the Israeli sources. He claimed that Israel doesn't want to send the military for incursions into Palestinian cities, but has no choice due to increased violence.
  • The Israeli sources added that Bar told Leaf the Shin Bet supports strengthening the PA, but it's harder to make decisions at this time because of November's election in Israel.

The Palestinian Authority blames Israel for the increased violence in the West Bank and the state of its security forces.

  • During her visit, Leaf met with Abbas’ No. 2, Hussein al-Sheikh, and the director of the Palestinian intelligence service Majed Faraj.
  • Al-Sheikh rejected the Israeli claims that the weakening of the Palestinian security forces is the reason for the increased violence in the West Bank.
  • He blamed nightly incursions by the Israeli military into Palestinian cities.
  • “They think the IDF will operate during the night and we will operate during the day? We can’t function when the Israeli military enters our cities every day arresting people and killing people. What do they expect?" al-Sheikh said.

While in Israel, Leaf also met with Maj. Gen. Ghassan Alian, the head of COGAT, the Israeli Ministry of Defense agency in charge of civilian affairs in the West Bank, who also painted a dark picture of the situation.

  • Israeli sources said Alian told the U.S. senior diplomat that he is doing everything in his power to stabilize the situation but thinks it might not be enough “to stop the snowball." He added that more significant steps require political decisions.
  • Leaf then met with Israeli national security adviser Eyal Hulata for what Israeli sources briefed on the matter said was a tough meeting.
  • Leaf stressed that the PA could collapse and “the ball is in Israel’s court” when it comes to strengthening and stabilizing it, the Israeli sources said.
  • The State Department did not respond to Axios' request for comment on Leaf's visit.

What’s next: Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid is expected to hold a meeting on Thursday to assess the situation in the West Bank and discuss possible measures.

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