Israel 'risks chaos without peace', official warns

Israeli forces in Hebron detain Palestinians during an operation - October 2010 The source warned of the possible rise in violence from Palestinian militants and "Jewish extremists"

The Palestinian leadership could fall apart without significant progress towards peace with Israel, which would be a major setback for Israel, a senior Israeli intelligence official has said.

The situation in the West Bank was the best in over a decade, he said - but warned it could lurch back into chaos.

The source was speaking to the BBC on condition of anonymity.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad were the "best combination", he said.

He said that, while both men did not particularly like each other, they both believed that terrorism was very damaging to the Palestinian cause, and were "fully supportive of the Palestinian security forces".

He said that situation was very different from previous Palestinian leaderships.

The source said that Mr Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, wanted to be the leader "who establishes the first ever Palestinian state in history".

But he warned that "Abu Mazen is tired and fed up", and that if he continued to be humiliated he might carry out his threat to step down and return home.

'Window closing'

The official said he did not believe that Mr Abbas would step down immediately.

"We have a few months," he said. "Everything is connected to progress, or not, of the peace talks."

Start Quote

The situation now is very fragile, all this can vanish”

End Quote Senior Israeli intelligence official

His words appear to be a warning to the senior Israeli political leadership, as well as Arab leaders and Washington, that the window for doing a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinian leadership is small and rapidly closing.

If Mr Abbas did step down, the source warned, the whole Palestinian leadership could fall apart.

He said there were no obvious successors to Mr Abbas, and that while Salam Fayyad was popular and successful, he had very little support from within the governing Fatah party to take over the presidency, or even remain as prime minister should Mr Abbas step down.

"If Abu Mazen retires who knows what will happen to Salam Fayyad?" he said. "The situation now is very fragile, all this can vanish."

At the same time as urging a speeding up of the peace process, the senior intelligence source warned that progress towards a final peace deal would inevitably be met by an upsurge of violence by extremists on both sides who opposed a settlement.

Extremists' threat

He said the Islamic movement Hamas, which rules in Gaza and opposes a peace deal with Israel, has been working hard to rebuild its infrastructure inside the West Bank, in preparation for what he called "large-scale attacks".

He said the killing of four Jewish settlers inside the West Bank in September was only a prelude.

He also warned of the potential for violence from Jewish extremists inside the West Bank. He said there had already been a number of attacks on Palestinian mosques.

"So far there have been no terrorist attacks," he said.

But he predicted "more and more problems with Jewish extremists" who oppose an Israeli pullout from the Occupied Territories, if the peace process moved forward.

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