JERUSALEM Israeli intelligence believes that Palestinians would lack the will for a new popular uprising against occupation should an upcoming peace conference fail to meet their expectations, a senior official said on Monday.
Yuval Diskin, head of the Shin Bet internal security agency, told a parliamentary committee that while failure at the conference could provoke some violence, it would not reach the same level as the Intifada, or uprising, that began in 2000 when the last major peace initiative collapsed.
"In my estimation ... the Palestinians are exhausted. There isn't the energy in the public and there also isn't the leadership right now that could spur such resistance," Diskin was quoted by a parliamentary spokesman as telling lawmakers.
The spokesman offered no definition of what failure might entail. Palestinian negotiators say their goal following a U.S.-hosted conference due by December is the launch of formal statehood negotiations leading to a peace accord next year.
Many observers question whether either the Israeli or Palestinian governments have the strength to implement such a deal -- Diskin himself was quoted as saying he did not believe Palestinians were capable of preventing attacks on Israel.
Over 4,000 Palestinians and some 1,000 Israelis have been killed since the uprising that began after peace talks between then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat broke down in 2000. Violence eased in 2005.
Diskin added in his briefing to the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, sitting in a closed session, that Hamas was consolidating its hold on the Gaza Strip since its violent takeover of the coastal territory in June.
"Hamas has an army of 15,000 trained and armed individuals with underground bunkers and military communication centers. They have smuggled in some 70 tons of explosives and they can manufacture mortars, anti-tank missiles and other weaponry," the parliamentary spokesman said, quoting Diskin.
The Shin Bet chief said it appeared unlikely Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas would manage to regain control of the Gaza Strip "in the foreseeable future". Hamas routed Abbas's Fatah faction to take control of the enclave in June. Fatah still holds sway in the occupied West Bank.
Diskin added that Abbas's security forces were too weak to ensure control of the West Bank if Israel withdrew troops in the way that it did from Gaza in 2005. He said pulling out of the West Bank would "pose a great security threat for Israel".
Hardline Hamas leader Nizar Rayan said at a rally in Gaza late on Monday that the Islamist group would aim to emulate its seizure of Gaza by ousting Abbas and his Fatah faction in the West Bank as well.
"In autumn the leaves will drop, (Abbas) will drop and we will pray in Abbas's office in Ramallah," Rayan said.
(Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza)