Regardless of who is responsible, the new Fatah-Hamas unity government will be watched closely for its response to the kidnappings.
Hours after a gag order prevented the Israeli media from publishing the story, we can now report that three Israeli teens, who study in the West Bank, have even missing since Thursday night. The IDF fears that their lives are in danger after being kidnapped, and that they may be held in the Hebron area. Both Palestinians and settlers have been reporting about military operations in both the south Hebron Hills and the nearby city of Yatta throughout the day. There were also reports of gunfire being exchanged between the army and armed Palestinians. Rumors abound on social media outlets, though it is too early to say what exactly happened.
What is certain is that if the three were indeed kidnapped by Palestinians, and let’s hope they are released soon, it will be the first test for the new Palestinian unity government. With the its establishment in Ramallah last week, Mahmoud Abbas declared that the Fatah-Hamas partnership, which is at the basis of the government, includes respecting prior agreements signed with Israel, such as opposition to violence. Even Israel, which announced that it was cutting ties with the Palestinian Authority, as well as a total cessation of peace negotiations (due to Hamas’ inclusion in the government), committed to continued security coordination. Even this, according to many Palestinians, is too close for comfort.
We will have to wait and find out the identity of the kidnappers and to which organization they belong. But come what may, it is clear that the world will closely examine the new government’s response to the incident, as well as that of Hamas. To what degree do the Palestinian Authority’s security forces cooperate with the IDF? Are Hamas members involved in the kidnapping? If so, did they act with permission from the higher-ups, or against their will? How will Hamas respond to the incident? And if Hamas was not involved, which organizations stand behind it? Does this signal a new opposition to the new PLO, similar to Hamas’ position vis-a-vis the old one?
In less than two weeks, the Ad-Hoc Liaison Committee (AHLC), a coordinating body formed to regulate donations from various states to the PA, with Israel as a monitoring party, is set to meet in Brussels. Despite the hardline position against the new government, Israel is expected to be present at the meeting and call on the international community to keep funding the Palestinian Authority. Will it continue doing so even if it turns out that Hamas either had a hand in the kidnapping or didn’t do enough to secure the release of the teenagers? If not, could it endanger the survival of the PA? There are many questions, and few answers.
And lastly: if the teens were indeed kidnapped, one cannot help but wonder whether the perpetrators acted out of seeking to use them as bargaining chips for the release of Palestinian prisoners, who, due to a massive hunger strike, are high on the priority list for Palestinians these days.
Read this post in Hebrew on Local Call.