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West Asia peace needed to shore up moderate Palestinians

world Updated: Nov 18, 2010 01:24 IST
Janine Zacharia

Israeli intelligence and military officials have warned in recent days that if a peace deal isn’t achieved soon the moderate Palestinian leadership in the West Bank could collapse and give way to more radical Hamas militants, backed by Iran and Syria, who already rule the Gaza Strip.

The warnings come as the United States makes a last-ditch effort to revive talks between Israel and the Palestinians that stalled almost as soon as they resumed in September.

Under a tentative agreement struck between Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Israel would extend a partial ban on settlement construction for 90 days, and the US would sell the country $3 billion worth of advanced fighter jets.

A senior Israeli West Bank commander cautioned in an interview on Tuesday that negotiators have only a short window before the recent quiet there is broken. Today’s calm “is not forever,” the officer said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “If our political echelon won’t get anything in these negotiation channels, we will face an escalation on the ground ...”

Amid such worries, Israeli military planners are studying intensively what a third Palestinian intifada, or outbreak of violence, could look like and how they would respond. They also are warning Israel’s political leadership of the possible outcomes of failed negotiations, the officer said.

Those concerns are reflected in the intelligence community, too. A senior Israeli intelligence official told reporters Sunday that the Palestinian security infrastructure could disappear “in five minutes” if the Palestinian leadership, led by President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, crumbles in the wake of failed talks.

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