Regardless of how unlikely it is that Hamas would kidnap three Israeli settlers just weeks after signing a unity agreement with Fatah, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is now trying to use last week’s incident to destroy the Hamas–Fatah reconciliation. It is the duty of Hamas, Fatah and the Palestinian Authority to ensure that this does not happen.
Even before the deal was announced, Netanyahu did not hide his rejection of any potential Palestinian reconciliation. He even sent out warnings about the consequences of a Hamas–Fatah reconciliation during the years of Palestinian–Israeli negotiations. After Hamas and Fatah announced this dreaded reconciliation on April 23, the Israelis pulled out of the talks. But Netanyahu’s attempts to prevent the wider international community from welcoming and praising this longed-for Palestinian reconciliation ultimately ended in failure. Reactions were uniformly encouraging and positive. EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton acknowledged that Palestinian reconciliation is facing many challenges, “but it also creates new opportunities for the peace process, democratic change, and for the Palestinian people in Gaza and the West Bank.”
Netanyahu also failed when his open call to major world powers not to recognize the Palestinian national unity government was roundly ignored, leading him to seek to express his misgivings to Washington through the international press. “I’m deeply troubled by the announcement that the United States will work with the Palestinian government backed by Hamas,” the Israeli prime minister told Associated Press earlier this year.
US Secretary of State John Kerry has made attempts to appease Netanyahu, affirming that Washington “will work with it [the Palestinian unity government] as we need to, as appropriate.” Kerry added: “We are going to be watching [the government] very closely, as we said from day one, to absolutely ensure that it upholds each of those things it has talked about, that it doesn’t cross the line.”
But these assurances are likely to have fallen on deaf ears and will not have alleviated the concerns of the Israeli prime minister, thus convincing him to give this Palestinian technocratic government the chance to continue negotiations with Israel.
So why does Netanyahu object? In my view, the Israeli prime minister’s rejection of this government is based on the fact that it was formed as the result of Palestinian conciliation. Netanyahu’s position is clearly characterized by flagrant bigotry—not only towards this reconciliation, but also towards dealing with the Palestinian Authority as the legitimate representative of all Palestinians.
His current position continues his pattern of political conduct towards Palestinian leaders ever since the days of President Yasser Arafat. Netanyahu has always displayed an entrenched rejection of seriously and genuinely dealing with any Palestinian leaders who are serious about peace. This demonstrates he is ultimately unconcerned about reaching a peace agreement with any Palestinian unity government, which is the only kind of peace worthy of the name.
Otherwise, how could we explain Netanyahu’s government forming a special “team” to consider additional Israeli reactions—after the prime minister was authorized to impose “sanctions” on the Palestinian Authority—to the new security and diplomatic reality created by the formation of this national unity government, according to Israel’s Jerusalem Post newspaper? Remember, this is a Palestinian government of technocrats that has been formed to unite Palestinian society and institutions, and does not even include any Hamas ministers.
This brings us back to the three missing Israeli settlers and the accusations from Tel Aviv that Hamas is involved in their abduction, and the possibility that Netanyahu could seek to use this incident as an excuse for a military “response.” The precise circumstances surrounding their disappearance in the West Bank remain unclear, but both the Palestinian government and Hamas have denied involvement.
Is it possible that hardline members of Hamas who reject any agreement with Fatah so long as it recognizes the state of Israel are responsible? Could one hand be unaware of what the other is doing? This scenario is certainly possible, but until the situation is clarified the Palestinians—and particularly Hamas—must do everything in their power to prevent the Netanyahu government from exploiting this situation and escalating it further.
It is equally possible, so long as we are dealing in hypotheses, that these three youths have been “abducted” specifically to create this security “situation” and spur Netanyahu to a particular response.
Ultimately, with the search still ongoing, it is not clear how this story will end. Will this be a situation akin to that of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit? Will the Israelis seek to use it just to destroy the Palestinian reconciliation agreement and its government, or to perhaps go even further?
These are the questions that need clarification. What does not need clarification is that the course of both the Israeli—Palestinian peace process and inter-Palestinian reconciliation are full of mines and tripwires that could explode at any moment. All that is needed is for somebody to light the fuse, and there are people in both camps who are prepared to do so.