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Israeli-Palestinian jolt? Why some want to dismantle PA.

Their UN membership bid failed. They don't want to resume Israeli-Palestinian talks without a settlement freeze. Now some Palestinian officials have a new idea: dismantle the Palestinian Authority.

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Earlier last week, UN Middle East Envoy Robert Serry warned Israel and the international community that Mr. Abbas and the Palestinians’ warnings should be taken seriously by Israel. 

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"I don't want to sound apocalyptic – but if things go wrong don't expect the international community to bail you out," Mr. Serry told the liberal Haaretz newspaper, speaking about Israel. "We will not pay the bill."  

Others think that Abbas and his Fatah party aren’t about to forfeit their power and financial aid so quickly for fear that Hamas is liable to move into the vacuum and displace them.

"They are using it as a scare tactic to the international community. I don’t think they believe that the Israeli government cares. The international community may back them by pressuring the Israelis," said a Western diplomat based in the region. "When you drive around Ramallah you see so many SUVs and so much money and its all because of the PA. Abbas wants to leave a legacy, but if he packs up the PA, he will leave chaos behind him."

Mohammed Shtayeh, a former Palestinian Authority cabinet member and peace negotiator, says that leaders in Fatah want to redefine how the PA operates rather than dismantling it. Palestinian officials said they might rethink cooperation with Israel, especially collaboration in the West Bank between Israeli and Palestinian security agencies.

Why it might backfire

A Hamas-aligned Palestinian lawmaker assailed the talk of dismantling the PA as "an act of desperation" by Palestinian officials who want to show constituents that they are standing up to the Israel at a time negotiations are deadlocked. "Dismantling the PA will not serve Palestinians, but stopping cooperation will fulfill our goals," said Ayman Daraghmeh, a legislative council member from the Hamas backed Reform and Justice party.

Voluntarily dismantling the PA might backfire by hurting the popularity of Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, warns Alaa Yaghi, a legislator from his Fatah party. "Most of the people would never understand why Abu Mazen would make this decision. They would blame Abu Mazen and the Fatah leadership."

Indeed, Said Samouri, an employee in the education ministry says he opposes such a move because it would deprive his family of some $1,300 in monthly salary.

"I cannot afford not to have my salary. I don’t have land to rely on," he said.

"Dismantling the PA is an extreme decision and I don’t think Abu Mazen should resort to it now. He should let diplomacy take its course. I am a patriot, and I want to support my government, but I have no way to live except for me and my wife’s salary."

Tactic to boost leverage?

Most Israeli observers see talk of a dismantling of the PA as a threat aimed gaining points at the negotiating table when the sides return to talks.

After years of similar warnings, however, few in Israel take the Palestinians at their word. Still, such a scenario would "expose us as an occupier nation against a civilian population with no protection – a sensitive legal and public relations situation," said Moshe Marzouk, a former advisor on Arab Affairs in the Israeli army, in an interview with Israel’s Ynet.com online news site..  

But Fatah member Daraghmeh is less convinced whether will give Palestinians any new leverage over Israel and tip the strategic balance between the two. Voluntarily giving up on international aid and dramatically increasing unemployment would risk the survival of Fatah. He described the Palestinian's stand-off with the US and Israel over the future of the Palestinian Authority by translating an Arabic expression.

"It’s like biting each other’s fingers," he said. "The one who can handle the most pain will win."

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