Israel's press continues to write about the shape of the Palestinian Authority when President Mahmoud Abbas leaves the political arena. This comes amid speculation about his deteriorating health and loss of the physical ability to carry out his presidential duties.
Ilan Lucatchi, a Channel 13 commentator, said that despite the spate of rumours and the flood of visiting doctors, it is possible to provide an overall assessment of the years Abbas spent as leader of the Palestinian Authority and gauge the impact he had on Israeli-Palestinian relations.
The writer conducted lengthy interviews with a number of senior Israeli officers and experts about their expectations after Abbas disappears from the political scene. Arabi 21 translated these interviews:
Amos Gilaad, former head of the security and political department at the Israeli defence ministry, said: "I view Abu Mazin's era from a purely security angle. Unlike his predecessor, Arafat, he opposed military operations. His rule saw security coordination between the Palestinians and Israelis reach very advanced stages. This included the security agencies on both sides, the civil administration and the Israeli army. The outcome has been saving Israeli lives."
Gilaad, the current head of the Strategic Consultations Institute at the multi-disciplinary Herzliya Centre, added that "Israel will not find a more collaborating president than Abbas. Although he pays money to the perpetrators of attacks and utters anti-Semitic statements, he has on the ground delivered the goods Israel asked for."
Shamrit Meir, the Israeli expert in Arab affairs, said: "Abbas signed away with his own hand Palestinian armed struggle. Look at what happened to the Fatah movement. It was an armed organisation that with the passage of time
deserted this path, which it had drawn decades ago. This is an essential and vital matter. Since Abbas ascended to power 14 years ago, he managed the conflict with Israel in a political rather than a military or security fashion. He never permitted a third intifada to emerge. At the same time, however, he has not accomplished any political achievement."
Avi Dichter, Knesset member and head of the Knesset's foreign and security committee, said: "Abbas was not a good choice right from the start. Even when he led the Oslo process, it soon proved to be a failure. He missed one opportunity after the other. Today, the man finds himself and his authority in a state of almost complete isolation. While Israel is bolstering its relations with a number of Arab states, these states are distancing themselves from the man entrenched within the Muqata'ah (the official quarters of the Palestinian president in Ramallah)."
Dichter, who is Israel's former minister of internal security and head of the Public Security Apparatus – the Shabak, added: "All parties are waiting to see what will happen the day after Abbas is gone. Every Israeli hopes that when he is gone that the authoritarian administrative system will be preserved; that the PA institutions will continue to perform; that security coordination will continue and that violence will remain at a minimum level."
General Etan Dangot, the former coordinator of the Israeli government's operations inside the Palestinian Territories, said: "The day after Abbas is gone will witness the eruption of internal conflict. Many parties will join the race for his succession. As a result, a state of internal Palestinian chaos may ensue. Therefore, I do not see a single exclusive heir emerging, but rather a dual or tripartite leadership heading the authority."
Dangot stressed that "Abbas' days are numbered. History will not remember him as a leader who presided over major changes. In fact, his rule did not witness even the minimum of dramatic events. Yet, he was surely rather appropriate for Israel. In view of the fact that the issue of succession is becoming more critical with the passage of time, both sides, the Palestinians and the Israelis, are getting ready for all possible scenarios."
Mordechai Kedar, the Israeli orientalist, wrote in Meda website: "Abbas' end is drawing closer with the passage of time. As such, several important questions arise. The answers to these questions will impact on the entire region. These are: What will happen in case Abbas is gone? Who will succeed him? Will the next leader succeed in achieving reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas? What will be his relationship with Israel? What will be the fate of the Palestinian Authority? It would seem that many of these questions remain unanswered so far."
He added in his article, which was translated by Arabi 21: "It is obvious that the divisions within the Palestinian Authority and the absence of its centrality after Abbas will serve the Israeli vision. It will strengthen it. It will replace the notion of familial fiefdoms with an entity of power. At the moment, each fiefdom is based on local tribal values and foundations within the West Bank cities."
He also said: "This model of the familial rule will exclude armed militants because in they view their presence as damaging to the stability of the security, social, economic and political status of the family and the tribe. Israel, in this case, would be required to support this option, especially at a time when we witness a Palestinian leadership vacuum."
Bin Casbet, the prominent Israeli political analyst, quoted a senior military source as saying: "At present, Abbas is witnessing the end of his political career. Five members of the small cabinet for security and political affairs were asked about their view as to who will succeed Abbas. None of them had any clear vision to answer this question. Such is the picture today within Israel's security agencies."
In an article published in Yisrael Plas website, Casbet added: "The Israeli cabinet did not hold many meetings to discuss the issue of Abbas succession. It would seem that it is not that concerned about discussing any possible successor. Abu Mazin has not arranged an easy succession process. Yet, security circles within Israel keep saying that we shall miss Abbas a lot because after his absence the Palestinian Authority will enter into a succession war. Either there will be a tripartite leadership or one of the circulated names will assume leadership for some time to come."
He pointed out that "despite the accusations and unprecedented attacks that Abbas has been subjected to from some Israeli ministers, and although political efforts to replace him were exerted during the past two years, the security and military establishments opposed this sharply because to his very last moments the man continued to fight armed groups and his security agencies continue to coordinate security with Israel. A large number of foiled attacks were thwarted thanks to this cooperation."
Casbet added that "Abbas is the central personality that prevents Fatah from joining a wave of operations in the West Bank, even during the wave of knife attacks. This ensured that the majority of the Palestinians refrained from participating in these operations."
He concluded by saying: "From the viewpoint of the army and the Israeli intelligence, this is the fundamental point. So, when senior officers and generals see politicians shouting against Abbas, they respond by saying: you will miss Abu Mazin a lot."
Translated from Arabi21, 26 May 2018
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.