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Israel faces the unknown in post-Abbas era

While Israel’s political leadership waits impatiently for the post-Abbas era, the country’s top security experts warn that Israel will miss the Palestinian leader.

Three hospitalizations in the course of a week have made whispers about the health of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas the stuff of headlines. On the evening of May 20, with Abbas in a Ramallah hospital with a high fever, an ear infection and possible pneumonia, a senior Israeli defense official speaking on the condition of anonymity told Al-Monitor that Israel does not perceive an immediate threat to the Palestinian leader’s life. In the same breath, he added, however, “There is no debate that we are seeing his final leadership days.” Other Israeli security sources say, based on intelligence reports, that the elderly Palestinian leader — 82 and a half years old, still chain smoking and with a long list of medical ailments — could exit center stage anywhere from a few months to two years from now. In other words, the time is about right to prepare for what happens after his departure.

When I recently asked five Israeli Cabinet ministers who will take over after Abbas, not one could offer a name or even a well-thought-out assessment of what might happen. The situation is the same among members of Israel’s intelligence community. When Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Chairman Yasser Arafat was dying, there was no doubt that Abbas would succeed him. Now, with Abbas, the most common response is, “Anything can happen.” As far as anyone knows, the Israeli Cabinet has not held serious discussions about who the next partner for peace will be. Perhaps it is because most Cabinet members are not interested in such a partner.

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