The abduction of the three Israeli youths was the sign, and Israel’s media took up the call. Thus began the familiar routine of nonstop broadcasts, interrupted only for the World Cup. In this way a suitable atmosphere was created, and the (Jewish) people of Israel were recruited for a war to liberate the three from their captors. It is of course absurd to use overwhelming military force for an operation that requires a tweezers. The reason came to light within a few hours: Netanyahu determined that the kidnappers were sent by Hamas. An entire regiment of paratroopers swept the West Bank and carried out night arrests of 300 activists to “crush Hamas’ infrastructure.”
Breaking up the Palestinian government
In days like these, the Israeli media brings to mind its Egyptian equivalent. After the Egyptian coup, the television channels and newspapers mobilized for the self-appointed President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, and thus the Muslim Brotherhood – which had just won in democratic elections – became a terror organization overnight. Similarly, the majority of the Israeli media suddenly became supporters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who just days ago was perceived as a peace rejecter who is turning the international community against Israel.
Like those same empty buildings bombed once in a while in Gaza to prove to Israelis that the army is acting against terror, the Hamas “infrastructure” has become a target. It seems that after the first few hours following the abduction, when it became clear that the chances of finding them alive were slim, Netanyahu lost interest. The bodies of those kidnapped are not so photogenic and could be a blow to the security services for their failure to prevent the abduction. Far better to divert attention from this failure towards a completely different political objective: breaking up the reconciliation efforts between Hamas and Fatah and causing the collapse of the Palestinian government.
The benefit of the military operation is clear. Netanyahu makes every effort to separate Fatah and Hamas, and more importantly to separate the Gaza Strip from the West Bank. Since Ariel Sharon “withdrew” from Gaza, the separation between the two serves Israel’s strategic interests. As long as there are two separate entities, Israel can claim there is no partner for peace because the Palestinians are not united. Moreover, this separation also enables Israel to present Gaza as the Palestinian state, making it easier to control the West Bank and annex broad swathes of it to Israel.
Regarding the division between Fatah and Hamas, it seems that Israel is close to achieving its goal. The fact that the three youth are still missing works to Netanyahu’s advantage: he can use the time it gives him, because if it turns out that Hamas is not behind the abduction, the military operations will lose their justification. This may be why Hamas is restraining itself and its activists are marching into detention without putting up any opposition – they have nothing to fear because, apparently, they have nothing to do with the abduction.
Security cooperation: who benefits?
In fact, it is Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) who is helping Israel drive Hamas to desperation. In Saudi Arabia he met with the deputy of the king, who supports Al Qaeda in Iraq while declaring the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Hamas in Gaza to be terrorist organizations. The summit in which Abu Mazen took part was convened to discuss the danger of the “judaization” of Jerusalem, but it was more concerned with the imminent fall of Baghdad into the hands of Al Qaeda. In this forum, Abu Mazen chose to lay out his political doctrine, parts of which were quoted admiringly by the Israeli Hebrew-language press: the security coordination with Israel “defends us from the occupation,” the intifada “creates chaos,” and other such pearls of wisdom that provoked great antagonism in the Arab world. This did not prevent Netanyahu from responding coldly, demanding that Abu Mazen translate his words into action.
Responses among the Palestinians have been severe. For example, Majid Qiyali, a Palestinian-Syrian columnist at the London-based Al-Hayat, posted on Facebook, “Abu Mazen’s declarations are unproductive, damaging and simplistic… There is no need for a character reference for the occupation, sir, we are the victim here, we have justice on our side, and we have 5000 of our people in jail. Identifying with Israeli rhetoric is not beneficial. It is proof of decline, fatigue and the end of the road, and is not a sign of logic or realism.”
The sentence which more than any other expresses this feeling of the end of the road is a statement from Abu Mazen at the same forum: “The abduction is intended to destroy us.” It is not clear whether the abductors do indeed aim to destroy the Palestinian Authority, but it is clear that Israel’s operations in the Occupied Territories not only harm Hamas but also pull the rug from under the PA’s feet. The fact that Israeli paratroopers walk around at night unhindered, sowing fear and horror, while Palestinian police huddle together in their bases, creates a feeling of ruin and lack of control among ordinary Palestinians.
The abduction proves that the PA does not serve its citizens, and that its only purpose is to maintain quiet and suppress opposition to the Occupation. When Abu Mazen says the security coordination “defends us”, this is understood to mean “defends the PA”, not the population as a whole, which is subject to a harsh reality of checkpoints, lack of access to services, poverty, arbitrary detention, and the killing of innocents by bored soldiers.
Lessons from Iraq and Syria
Netanyahu is behaving in the West Bank just as former US President George W. Bush did in Iraq. Facts are insignificant – only the predetermined target is important, and this target is regime change. Bush accused Saddam Hussein of links to Al Qaeda and invented weapons of mass destruction ostensibly stockpiled by Saddam. Similarly, Netanyahu links Hamas to the abduction to bring down the Palestinian unity government. It seems Netanyahu failed to learn the lessons of Iraq: the removal of Saddam led to the disintegration of Iraq and to a situation where Al Qaeda is at the gates of Baghdad, under Obama’s terrified gaze. In the West Bank too, the operation to liquidate “anything in green” will eventually cause the collapse of the PA.
Israel’s crude attempts to influence the balance of power in Abu Mazen’s favor by weakening Hamas are having the opposite effect. The Palestinians understand the maneuver, and are losing what little faith they still had in the PA and in Hamas. Rumor in the Occupied Territories has it that the abduction is Netanyahu’s doing, and its only purpose is to undermine Palestinian unity. Nobody believes Hamas is behind the abduction, because Hamas surrendered long ago. On the other hand, nobody believes Abu Mazen is maintaining security coordination with Israel for the sake of the Palestinians.
Reality in the Middle East shows that whenever there is a power vacuum, Islamic fundamentalism is ready to step in. This is what happened in Syria, due to Assad’s attack on the democratic opposition and Obama’s failures; this is what happened in Iraq too, due to the elimination of the moderate Sunni opposition by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki – and here too Obama did not say a word. Extremism thrives on the feeling of humiliation and frustration, and that is exactly what the Palestinians are feeling today. Netanyahu humiliated them, Abu Mazen humiliated them even more, and this is a tried and tested recipe for the appearance of groups like Al Qaeda.
The fall of Hamas and Fatah will not leave many options: either the return of direct occupation or governmental chaos, which will be filled by Islamic fundamentalism. This fundamentalism is already knocking on the gates of Baghdad, has its sights on Damascus, and hungers after Jordan. There is no reason why it should not cast an eye on Jerusalem too.
Translated by Yonatan Preminger