Murders expose the cracks in the Palestinian edifice

By Toby Greene, July 3, 2014

What does the murder of three teens in the West Bank at the hands of Hamas operatives mean for Palestinian reconciliation?

Israel was disappointed at the speed with which both the US and the EU embraced the Palestinian unity government when it was announced at the beginning of June.

But within the Israeli government, there was also a debate about how to relate to it.

Prime Minister Netanyahu took the position that any reconciliation between PA President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas was antithetical to peace with Israel, and said there could be no talks under such conditions.

Tzipi Livni argued that Israel should make a distinction between the unity government - which itself contains no Hamas members - and Hamas itself, and continue to deal with the former.

The cabinet ultimately declared it would not negotiate with a government backed by a terror group. But it held off from announcing immediate sanctions. Israel was watching to see how the deal would play out.

Even before the kidnapping, the Palestinian reconciliation process looked weak. The new "unity" cabinet that Mr Abbas announced at the beginning of June looked more like a reshuffle, with the same prime minister, foreign minister and finance minister as before. Mr Abbas was also unwilling to sign up 40,000 Hamas "civil servants" in Gaza to the PA payroll, insisting on a vetting process which was set to take months.

Meanwhile, Hamas insisted that it remain in effective control of the Gaza Strip, and it made no indication that it was moving towards acceptance of the Quartet conditions. For both sides it looked like a display of unity for internal domestic consumption and, in the case of Hamas, an attempt to dig its way out of its regional isolation and severe economic problems.

Then came the kidnapping. PA officials privately accepted that Hamas affiliates were involved, and said that if the orders came from above, this was a contravention of their agreement.

It is unclear where the orders came from, and how far Hamas's leadership wanted it to happen. But wherever the orders came from, the incident has exposed the superficiality of the Palestinian reconciliation process.

Mr Abbas publicly condemned the kidnapping, and Palestinian security forces continued their cooperation with the IDF. Meanwhile in Gaza, Hamas leaders praised the abduction.

Israel would like to see Mr Abbas dissolve the deal with Hamas. It is unclear whether he will take such a step. Ultimately, the murders reveal that the Palestinian unity deal cannot withstand its own internal contradictions.

Dr Toby Greene is the Director of Research for BICOM. He is the author of ‘Blair, Labour and Palestine: Conflicting Views on Middle East Peace After 9/11’, published by Bloomsbury Academic

Last updated: 10:42am, July 4 2014