The Palestinians are still being surprised from time to time by local, regional and international calls and statements calling for the “replacement” of the Palestinian leadership, in conjunction with the wave of normalisation taking place, as a prelude to bringing in leadership that agrees to this path and joins it. The Palestinians are even more surprised when these calls are made by forums and figures, who until recently, were part of the circles close to the Palestinian leadership and worked with it for many years.
The former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, called for replacing the current Palestinian leadership, saying: “We’ve got to try and bring forward a generation of Palestinian politicians that understands that the only way they’ll get a Palestinian state is through a genuine and deep understanding between people, between cultures, and not just a negotiation about territory.”
Meanwhile, the American Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman was misquoted as saying the US was considering replacing the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas with the dismissed Fatah leader, Muhammad Dahlan. This was later corrected to quote him saying: “We have no desire to engineer the Palestinian leadership” and that “the Palestinian leadership is not serving the people properly.”
As for Colonel Dror Shalom, head of Military Intelligence’s Research Division in the Israeli army, he said that there are two main dangers to Israel, one of which is the collapse of the PA because its position has become a strategic harbinger, especially in the post-Abbas phase, where we will be facing a ticking time bomb.
Meanwhile, the Saudi and Emirati media launched a sweeping attack on the PA and its president, following the signing of the normalisation agreements with Israel, and published articles and reports calling for an end to the Abbas era and bringing in Dahlan, who is close to them.
It is clear that the rapid developments in the Palestinian arena may undermine the stability of the PA, especially with the increased talk about the possible absence of President Abbas, whether for health or political reasons. This is especially with the spread of the coronavirus in the West Bank, the growing pressure on the PA in recent months, and with the Palestinian public realising the magnitude of the difficulty facing them.
The question remains about the possibility of Abbas agreeing to step down from his post if presidential elections are held – something he has remained tight lipped about – with the increase in foreign calls to end his term and vacate his seat. But who can succeed him?
Though Israel knows Abbas has many flaws, there are good reasons why it fears the day he is no longer at the helm of the PA. It is true that he stopped security coordination with them and cut political relations, but he has not broken all ties yet.
The head of Israel’s Shin Bet security service Nadav Argaman warned against weakening Abbas’ position, strengthening Hamas in the West Bank, and a decline in the popularity of what he called “moderates” in the Palestinian arena.
There are a number of basic scenarios for the day following Abbas’ absence: The first is optimistic, whereby power will be transferred in a calm manner, and the next president will follow Abbas’ approach and implement his policies. This will avoid violence and focus on the diplomatic arena.
The second scenario, represented by chaos, will see problematic parties from Fatah gaining control of the arena. This could allow Hamas to impose its control over the West Bank, despite the group being pursued by Israel around the clock, and then armed attacks will return to the West Bank.
As for the third scenario, it is the middle ground with a transitional period in which a weak figureheads the PA, but this figure has the approval of all parties until general elections are held.
The Israelis view Abbas’ era only from a security angle. Unlike his predecessor, Yasser Arafat, he opposed armed operations, and his rule witnessed Palestinian-Israeli security coordination reaching a very advanced stage. It included coordination between both sides’ security forces, civil administration, and the Israeli army, and the result was preserving the lives of Israelis. Israel may not find a president who cooperates with it more than Abbas, because he “provided the goods” that Israel wanted.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.