The Palestinian Authority is quietly bracing for the prospect of collapse.

PA officials said numerous officials have fled or plan to leave the West Bank for Jordan and other Arab states. They said the assessment of many in the PA leadership is that the authority could collapse by late 2005 as the split within the ruling Fatah movement widens.

“The Fatah is split between the young guard who wants to take over now and the old guard who wants to remain at all costs,” a PA official said. “Whatever happens, the fate of Fatah is linked to the PA.”

Officials said PA security services have been unable to stem the increasing violence in the streets of Palestinian cities in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. They said Fatah factions have been engaged in gun battles in Ramallah, the center of Palestinian government, while police largely stood by.

On Tuesday, PA Prime Minister Ahmed Qurie warned that he would suspend the Cabinet unless the security forces were ordered to halt the chaos in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Qurei also cited the violence in Ramallah.

“If this security chaos does not end, we will suspend our duties,” Qurei said on Tuesday. “We are telling the heads of security services that there should be severe deterrence for all those who are tampering with security.”

Over the last two weeks, Fatah’s old guard appeared to have succeeded in postponing a congress scheduled for August 2005 to elect a new leadership. The move has angered young Fatah challengers, and PA officials predict the splintering of the movement into armed factions, with each competing for control of areas in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. They said many of these factions would be supported by foreign elements.

“In truth, this thing poses a strategic threat to the steadfastness of the Palestinians,” Palestinian Legislative Council member Jamal Shubaki said. “It poses an internal threat upon the Palestinian stronghold, which remained firm in the face of all recent confrontations.”

Officials said PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas has sought to maintain a semblance of order in an effort to ensure the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank in August. But they said Abbas has lost control of the Fatah movement, particularly the 21-member Fatah Central Committee. Abbas, they said, could count on the support of two Central Committee members.

“PA and Fatah people have never been so scared as they are now,” an official said. “There is a stream of people going to Amman and sending their families and money there.”

The most immediate threat to Abbas and the PA comes from the Fatah-controlled Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades. Officials said Al Aqsa operatives have sought to align themselves with Abbas’s rivals in Fatah in preparation for a coup.

Abbas’s leading rival has been Fatah chief Farouq Khaddoumy, backed by the movement’s old guard. Fatah leaders have pressed for Khaddoumy’s appointment to PA vice chairman, which would allow him to succeed Abbas.

At the same time, Fatah operatives have formed alliances with PA security commanders. Officials said the commanders have sought to form private militias to prevent their dismissal by Abbas or Interior Minister Nasser Yusef.

“The idea is that Al Aqsa will shoot at Abu Mazen [Abbas] if these commanders are dismissed,” a Fatah source said.

Officials said several dismissed PA commanders have already fled the West Bank to avoid retaliation by the families of those killed or detained by security forces. They said the commanders had also feared that they would be jailed on corruption charges.

In early June, PA Military Intelligence units attacked PA officials to protest the dismissal of commander Brig. Gen. Mussa Arafat. The units stormed the home of the governor of Nablus and abducted a PA diplomat in the Gaza Strip.

Officials said Yusef agreed to shelve plans to absorb military intelligence in the PA National Security Force. Arafat’s command, however, was not restored.