Israel needs to be ready to act immediately and “step into the shoes of the Palestinian Authority” when it collapses, Immigration and Absorption Minister Ze’ev Elkin said Tuesday.
Elkin, one of the nine members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s security cabinet, met diplomatic reporters in the Knesset Tuesday to explain his warning in a speech at Bar-Ilan University on Monday that the collapse of the Palestinian Authority is imminent. The PA’s collapse, he said in that speech, is not a matter of “if,” but rather “when.”
“I am not at this point saying whether [the PA collapse] is good or bad, but the worse thing would be for us not to be prepared,” he said. “Therefore we need a working plan.”
Elkin said he hoped to trigger a public discussion on a matter that – in his mind – is not getting the necessary attention, but which will have huge ramifications for the country.
“I don’t think that we have internalized that the PA is collapsing,” he said, “though I have not met anyone from the political or defense establishment who will say this is a crazy scenario.”
Elkin said he had no answer to what will happen when the PA collapses, saying that it could range from total anarchy to a power struggle among various factions.
The biggest challenge, he said, will come from the massive amount of weaponry currently under the PA’s control.
“Today it is under supervision,” he said. “But imagine a situation tomorrow where the person in charge is no longer in charge, or there are a number of people in charge.”
While at first the weapons are likely to be turned inward to consolidate power, he said, in no time they could also be turned toward Israel.
Being prepared, he said, means knowing who the likely leaders are, and how to get to them; having a military plan in place if anarchy ensues; and being able to deal with all the civil issues that will fall on Israel’s shoulders.
Elkin said he would recommend strengthening the PA if he thought it could actually prevent its collapse. He said the international community is erroneously focusing on how to strengthen the PA, when it – too – should be planning for the day after.
“There are many considerations that lead me to the conclusion that there is no way to prevent this scenario,” he said, adding that ironically there was a clearer plan for succession under Yasser Arafat than there is under current PA President Mahmoud Abbas. “And even if I am wrong, we still have to be prepared.”