Palestinians Threaten to Collapse the Palestinian Authority

Palestinians call it their "nuclear option" – the threat to collapse the Palestinian Authority and force Israel and the international community to assume full responsibility for the running of the Occupied Territories.

Senior Palestinian officials are saying this could be one of the consequences of President Mahmoud Abbas's decision not to seek re-election in next January's Palestinian elections. Some have interpreted his move as a tactic to put pressure on the Obama Administration to toughen its dealings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Others are convinced he is serious about quitting.

One such believer is the senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, who told AFP Tuesday, "If President Abbas feels that his project of establishing a Palestinian state is in danger and that Israel wants to destroy the idea of a Palestinian state then I think he will not remain in the presidency."

In a televised address Nov. 5 Abbas bitterly criticized Israel's refusal to implement a settlement freeze and the U.S.'s apparent back tracking over the issue. The Palestinians refuse to restart peace talks unless there is a freeze and Israel recognizes the progress made in previous peace talks.

The threat to dissolve the Palestinian Authority has been made before. But the sense of frustration and anger among senior Palestinian politicians at the current impasse has rarely been so intense.

"If there is not going to be a Palestinian state then there is not going to be a Palestinian Authority, or the institutions of the Palestinian Authority," added Erekat.

The Palestinian Authority was set up in the early 1990's to manage the transition of the occupied territories towards greater Palestinian self government. Once the idea of creating a fully independent Palestinian state gathered momentum, the PA was assumed to be its government in waiting.

Today it administers the civilian government of the Palestinian population, including the payment of salaries to teachers and doctors and the provision of basic public services including security.

Could Peace Talks Persuade President Abbas to Stay?

Critics have long argued the PA allows Israel to continue its military occupation without having to shoulder the burden of running the day to day lives of the Palestinians. The PA is almost exclusively funded by foreign donations totaling more than $1 billion a year.

There are those who believe President Abbas could be persuaded to stay on in his post but only if there is a significant breakthrough in the peace process.

This puts additional pressure on the U.S. and added significance to Monday night's meeting between President Obama and Netanyahu. The absence of photographers in the Oval Office and the cancellation of press briefings all suggesting both men knew of the importance of their two-hour get together.

So far little is known about their discussion or whether President Obama won further concessions from Netanyahu that might make Abbas reconsider.

White House officials meanwhile say there are no plans for special envoy Sen. George Mitchell to return to the region.