Fatah, Hamas Send Message to Israel

For the past three days, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh have found themselves trapped in a scenario drafted by Israel. Both leaders have been declared responsible for liberating Gilad Shalit, the soldier who was abducted in Sunday's attack on Israel Defense Forces troops stationed along the Israel-Gaza border. And both now share a rival other than Israel: local organizations in Gaza and organizational leaderships outside the territories.

In addition, the Palestinians now face the threat of the Israeli army, which has set the stage for a massive invasion of Gaza. This threat forces Hamas and Fatah to decide whether to present a united front that opposes Palestinian attacks within Israeli territory, or to disintegrate separately, lose control and pass the leadership baton to the commanders of the Gaza streets or Hamas leaders abroad.

The decision to deal with the prisoners' national unity document quickly can be seen as a message that Fatah and the local Hamas leadership want to transmit to Israel. The Palestinian leadership that will arise on the basis of this document appears likely to become an acceptable partner ? if not for diplomatic negotiations, then for cooperation on joint issues, including security-related ones. It might therefore be able to delay or remove the threat of IDF action.

Hamas government spokesman Ghazi Hamed said that the document could even change the policies of Europe and the United States, meaning that from his perspective, it is likely to lead to a lifting of the boycott.

The changes introduced into the document do speak about the establishment of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, but do not recognize the "legality of the occupation." This phrase could either mean the Israeli occupation of the territories or the "Zionist occupation of all of Palestine."

In other circumstances, a Palestinian unity government could have functioned as a way for the Hamas government to win free of the boycott. But on the eve of what appears to be a war in Gaza, it is probably too late to sign the prisoners' document. The question now is to what extent the local Hamas leadership can convince Shalit's kidnappers that the abduction contradicts the document and is liable to endanger Hamas's ability to stay in power.