'Never been worse': US envoy voices agony over PA’s decline in meeting with Israeli officials
A senior US diplomat warned Israeli officials this week that the multiple crises facing the Palestinian Authority left it "like a dry forest waiting to catch fire", Axios reported
Hady Amr, deputy assistant secretary of Israeli and Palestinian affairs, visited Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories for meetings with officials from both sides, including PA President Mahmoud Abbas.
It came as Palestinians’ discontent with their leadership continues to soar over the killing of an outspoken political activist, and after Israel moved to withhold taxes collected on behalf of the PA to punish it for payments to the families of suspected Palestinian militants.
After meeting PA President Abbas in Ramallah, Deputy Assistant Amr described never having seen the semi-autonomous government "in a worse situation", according to three Israeli officials who later met with the US diplomat or were briefed on the meeting.
A combination of financial and political crises has left the semi-autonomous government, the product of an early 1990's peace deal with Israel, in a predicament akin to a "dry forest waiting to catch on fire", Amr allegedly said.
President Joe Biden's so-called 'point man' for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Amr suggested steps Israel could take to help the Palestinian economy and the PA's budget to improve the government's standing.
The latest crisis in confidence over the PA's leadership began after Abbas decided to indefinitely postpone the first Palestinian parliamentary election in over 15 years, a move widely seen as aimed at averting the sweeping gains projected for Hamas, the main rival to Abbas' Fatah party.
Since the killing of Nizar Banat, a political activist who died while in PA custody, a protest movement has emerged calling for the resignation of Abbas and PA Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh.
Demonstrations calling for accountability have been brutally quashed by PA forces, who have used repressive tactics, including torture and arbitrary detention, amid what observers say is the PA’s growing authoritarianism.
Meanwhile, the Palestinian economy, already ravaged by the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic, took another after Israel's Security Cabinet decided it would withhold $181.9 million in funds collected on behalf of the PA to offset stipends paid to families of alleged Palestinian militants.
The Cabinet on Sunday approved a recommendation by Defence Minister Benny Gants to halt what it called "indirect support of terrorism" in 2020.
Israel collects taxes on behalf of the PA, constituting half of the latter’s budget, usually handing them over monthly. But Israel has regularly withheld sums, alleging that funds have been going to the families of jailed or killed Palestinians.
Palestinians see the payments as a necessary welfare system to assist families affected by the conflict.