Israeli plan to bypass Abbas in search for new partners


Two-and-a-half months after his appointment as Defence Minister, Avigdor Lieberman has signalled a change of policy towards the Palestinian Authority.

In a briefing with military correspondents last week, the leader of Yisrael Beiteinu unveiled his plan to bypass the Palestinian Authority and its president, Mahmoud Abbas, and work instead with local leaders in the West Bank and the Palestinian public.

Mr Lieberman has not hidden his belief that President Abbas is "anti-Israel" and that Israel should seek to supplant him as the representative of the Palestinians.

The minister presented a list of financial incentives for various areas in the West Bank, including a new hospital in the Bethlehem district and an industrial zone in Nablus.

The ministry is also planning to launch a new Arabic website, operated by the office of the Co-ordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, which it hopes will serve as an alternative source of news for the Palestinians.

Lieberman wants to work with local leaders

While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was informed in advance of Mr Lieberman's plan, it does not replace official Israeli government policy, which still sees President Abbas and the PA as the official representatives of the Palestinians.

It is also unclear at this point whether Mr Lieberman is actually engaging with any Palestinian leaders.

This is not the first time that Israel has tried to establish an alternative Palestinian leadership in the West Bank. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, there was an attempt to found "village councils" which would serve as the base for a leadership not affiliated with the PLO.

It failed because most Palestinian citizens saw the members of the councils as collaborators and refused to work with them. The thinking behind Mr Lieberman's new proposal is that in the twilight of President Abbas's rule and as Palestinian society tires of violence and the stagnated diplomatic process, there is room for a new partner to come to the fore. However, Mr Abbas is still there and does not envisage relinquishing power.

More crucially, the PA's security apparatus helps Israel keep the peace. It is unclear how that co-operation would continue under Mr Lieberman's plan.

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