US envoy warns Palestinian Authority's standing has 'never been worse'
A senior US diplomat has warned Israeli officials that the multiple crises facing the Palestinian Authority (PA) have left it in a worse situation than he had ever seen, equating it to "a dry forest waiting to catch fire".
Hady Amr, deputy assistant secretary of Israeli and Palestinian affairs, visited Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories this week for meetings with officials from both sides.
The meetings came as Palestinians continued to voice anger over the killing of outspoken political activist and PA critic Nizar Banat, and Israel's decision to withhold taxes collected on behalf of the PA as punishment over payments to the families of Palestinians suspected of killing Israelis.
"I have never seen the Palestinian Authority in a worse situation," Amr is reported to have said after meeting with PA President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah. The Axios report cited 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 in a predicament akin to a "dry forest waiting to catch on fire", he added.
Amr suggested steps Israel could take to help the Palestinian economy and the PA's budget to improve the government's standing.
Nizar Banat killing
The latest crisis in confidence over the PA's leadership began after Abbas indefinitely postponed the first Palestinian parliamentary election in more than 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 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 Mohammad Shtayyeh.
The PA announced an investigation into Banat's death, but demonstrators have continued to protest for several weeks.
Meanwhile, the Palestinian economy, already ravaged by the Covid-19 pandemic, has taken another hit after Israel withheld $182m in funds collected on behalf of the PA in protest at stipends paid to families of alleged Palestinian militants.
Israel's Security Cabinet on Sunday approved a recommendation by Defence Minister Benny Gantz to halt what it called "indirect support of terrorism".
Israel collects taxes on behalf of the PA, constituting half of the PA's budget, usually handing them over monthly. But Israel has frequently withheld large 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.