Yaakov Katz , THE JERUSALEM POST
While Palestinian officials continued to threaten Sunday to unilaterally declare independence, one senior Israeli defense official summed up the growing assessment in the defense establishment by saying, "Just let them try."
Behind the dare is a belief in the IDF and Defense Ministry that even though the past year has seen an unprecedented improvement in the performance of Palestinian security forces and civilian institutions - largely due to increased cooperation with Israel - the Palestinian Authority is still far from being able to hold it together on its own.
One official gave the water situation in the West Bank as an example. While Israel has recently come under growing international criticism for allegedly denying Palestinians adequate access to water, according to Israeli officials the situation would be far worse without Israeli assistance.
"The Palestinian Water Authority wouldn't last a day on its own," an IDF source said. "We allocated them a piece of land on the coast to build a desalination plant and they have decided not to build it."
Another example focuses on security cooperation, which has significantly increased over the past two years, since Hamas violently took control of the Gaza Strip. Next month, the fifth Palestinian battalion trained by US Lt.-Gen. Keith Dayton in Jordan will return to the West Bank for deployment. Another one will then depart for four months of training in Jordan.
Despite the deployment of these forces - which IDF officers openly admit are doing a good job cracking down on Hamas infrastructure in the West Bank - whenever PA President Mahmoud Abbas travels outside of Ramallah to another Palestinian city, the IDF, Shin Bet and Civil Administration are all involved to coordinate and ensure his safety.
"When Abbas travels it is like a military operation," one officer explained. "Everyone is involved since the PA forces cannot yet completely ensure his security."
The understanding in the defense establishment is that with all the hype surrounding the possibility that the Palestinians will unilaterally declare a state, it is more likely a ploy aimed at getting Israel to be serious about negotiations on the two-state solution. The idea is to get other countries to put pressure on Israel to start making real concessions - such as a freeze on settlement construction - so the talks can begin.
While this may be true, the corridors of the IDF's Central Command and Planning Division were buzzing with talk about the potential fallout, both diplomatically and militarily.
If the Palestinians declare statehood, then Israel will likely come under major international pressure to take action to show it recognizes the new state. The government will then go knocking on the IDF's door.
Ultimately though, Israeli moves will be dictated by political decisions. Israel cannot order the IDF to completely pull back from the West Bank while settlers still live there. It can, on the other hand, lift more roadblocks and even allow the Palestinians in the interim to "have" their new state in Area A parts of the West Bank which are already, for the most part, under Palestinian control.