Israel Struggling to Tie Hamas to West Bank Kidnapping

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An Israeli soldier looks inside a water well as they search for three missing Israeli teens, in the West Bank town of Halhul near Hebron, June 21, 2014.Credit: AP

On Friday it seemed as if the attempt to replace an intelligence fiasco with a diplomatic achievement was bearing fruit. After seven days of searches by the army, a senior Palestinian source linked Hamas to the abduction.

“If it turns out that Hamas is responsible, the reconciliation and the unity agreement will be at risk”, said Palestinian Foregn Minister Riyad al-Malki. Israel immediately seized upon this declaration as a clear victory for the policy led by Prime Minister Netanyahu since the abduction took place, seeing the first cracks in the reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah.

Netanyahu’s goals are clear. The dismantling of the reconciliation will return Mahmoud Abbas to his role as the president of half a state, eroding his ability to represent Palestine at international organizations or to demand the granting of permanent member status at the United Nations. There is no concern that the breakup with Hamas will serve as a new starting point for negotiations with Abbas, since the negotiations collapsed before the unity accord, which served Netanyahu as a retroactive alibi for breaking off ties with the Palestinian Authority.

There will be those in Israel who argue that negotiations should not be resumed, despite the extensive support given by the Authority to the effort to locate the kidnapped youths, since anyone who signed a pact with a terror organization can’t be trusted. No less important will be Israel’s apparent achievement vis-à-vis the United States and the European Union, which dismissed Netanyahu by announcing their intention to cooperate with the new unity government. Dismantling this unity is thus a prime objective of Netanyahu, regardless of the abduction.

Netanyahu’s tireless endeavors to link Hamas to the abduction, thus breaking the Palestinian unity government, still suffers from one serious drawback. There is no proof that Hamas, whether its senior leaders in Gaza or abroad, instructed its operatives to carry out the kidnapping. There is no proof that a smaller faction linked to Hamas carried it out either. Without such proof, the campaign to break up the unity government hangs on a slender thread that cannot be strengthened, even by the Palestinian Foreign Minister’s declaration.

Furthermore, by Saturday, Malki, who is known for his anti-Hamas stance, had changed his tune. He expressed wonder at the fact that the international community was not reacting to “Israel’s crimes against Palestinian citizens, which are tantamount to war crimes, for which the perpetrators should be prosecuted according to international law. These are carried out on the pretext of searching for three missing settlers who were illegally travelling on occupied Palestinian land.”

There was no mention of a possible link to Hamas. Malki’s earlier words were strongly condemned, not only by Hamas but by senior Fatah members, who said that Malki was playing into the hands of Israel, trying to disrupt the accord that he had opposed. For example, Hazem Abu Shanab, a senior member of the Fatah revolutionary council, said that, “the Palestinian leadership and the Fatah movement support national unity in the struggle against the occupation. The army’s operations are directed against all Palestinians and especially Fatah command centers.” Musa Abu Marzouk, the deputy of Hamas political chief Khaled Meshal, said that, “there is no turning back from the path of reconciliation.”

Senior Hamas officials have so far refrained from taking responsibility for the abduction, while at the same time condemning the cooperation of the Palestinian Authority with the IDF. “Abducting soldiers or settlers is not a source of guilt but of pride for our whole nation,” according to Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zohri.

Such declarations by Hamas and Fatah officials illustrate that the Palestinian leadership has adopted the path of a diplomatic-political confrontation, imposed on it by Netanyahu in his efforts to disrupt the reconciliation. Instead of this reconciliation being a strategic move imposed on Hamas, it has turned into a banner that every Palestinian waves in the confrontation with Israel.

It seems as if in its efforts to achieve at least a breakdown in Palestinian unity, Israel may suffer defeat. All of which leaves an open question. What if Hamas is not behind the kidnapping? Where will the government turn then in its policies toward the Palestinian Authority?

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