The reconciliation agreement that was signed between rival Palestinian groups Fatah and Hamas in April, and the subsequent formation of a unity government, was supposed to put an end to their dispute, which erupted after Hamas won the January 2006 parliamentary election.
But the kidnapping of three Israeli youths in the West Bank last week has shown that the gap between Fatah and the Islamist movement Hamas remains as wide as ever, and that the two parties continue to treat each other with suspicion.
The three Israeli teenagers abducted last Thursday night: Gilad Shaar, Naftali Frenkel, and Eyal Yifrach.
The unity government, headed by Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, is supposed to represent both Fatah and Hamas, although none of the ministers in an official member of the two parties.
Since the abduction of the three youths, however, the two Palestinian partners have been speaking in different voices. While Fatah has condemned the kidnapping, Hamas has hailed it as a «heroic operation.»
Five days after the kidnapping, Mahmoud Abbas’s office issued a statement condemning the incident and calling for an end to violence «by any party.» Abbas has even instructed the Fatah-dominated security forces in the West Bank to assist Israel in the manhunt for the missing teenagers — much to the satisfaction of some Israeli security officials.
In contrast, Hamas, whose men are believed to be responsible for the abduction of the three youths, has condemned Abbas’s stance. Several Hamas leaders and spokesmen in the Gaza Strip have even urged Abbas and the new government immediately to halt security coordination with Israel; they have dubbed it a «stab in the back of Palestinian resistance and prisoners» held by Israel.
Before the formation of the Hamas-Fatah unity government, Abbas did everything he could to reassure the Americans, Europeans and Israelis that the unity government would «renounce violence and recognize Israel’s right to exist.»
Abbas even assured U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry that the unity government would commit itself to all agreements signed between the Palestinians and Israel.
On the basis of Abbas’s assurances, the Obama Administration and several EU governments rushed to announce that they would work with the new Palestinian government, even as Hamas continued to deny the Palestinian Authority president’s claims. As former Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said, «Hamas will continue to hold onto its strategy, whether it is inside the government or outside.»
When Haniyeh talks about Hamas’s strategy, he is referring to the movement’s declared intention to destroy Israel and replace it with an Islamic state.
The Obama Administration and those EU governments that rushed to welcome the alliance between Fatah and Hamas did not want to pay attention to the Islamist movement’s announcements that it would take advantage of the unity government to move terrorism to the West Bank.
If it turns out that Hamas was indeed behind the kidnapping of the Israeli youths, it shows that the movement has kept its word to use the reconciliation pact with Fatah as a means to move its terror activities to the West Bank. Hamas’s ultimate goal is to extend its control to the West Bank, and not merely get new jobs and salaries from Abbas.
The honeymoon between Fatah and Hamas now seems to be nearing its end as the two parties resume their rhetorical attacks on each other in the aftermath of the kidnapping. Abbas may now finally have realized that Hamas’s real intention is to get rid of him and turn the West Bank into a battlefield against Israel.
It is obvious that all those who were quick to welcome the partnership between Fatah and Hamas — the U.S. and Europe — have emboldened and legitimized the Islamist movement, thus facilitating its mission to carry out terror attacks against Israelis as well as to take over the West Bank.