BOLT FROM THE BLUE
Just the Israeli government of Binyamin Netanyahu believed that its occupation of Palestinian land was secure, along came the kidnapping
of three settlers at Gush Etzion, near Hebron, writes Palestinian commentator Hani Masri on the independent Palestinian website www.masarat.ps.
The kidnapping came like a bolt from the blue, shattering the Israeli government’s false sense of security. It took an event like that to remind the Israelis that occupation begets resistance.
It is not important who kidnapped the trio or why they were kidnapped. It was simply a natural reaction to a given situation. As Israeli writer Gideon Levy said in [the Israeli daily] Haaretz, ‘Those who stubbornly refuse to release Palestinian prisoners, some of whom have been incarcerated for decades, from before the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, and some of whom Israel has promised to set free; those who imprison detainees without trial for years; those who ignore the hunger strike by 125 ‘administrative’ detainees, some of whom are dying in hospitals; those who intend to feed them using force, and those who planned to pass sweeping laws to prohibit their release – these people cannot pretend to be surprised or shocked by the abductions. They arranged for them in advance.’
Levy goes on to say, ‘in killing the peace process, Israel shut the gates of its prisons, and the Israeli message to the Palestinians was razor-sharp: The only way your sons will be freed is through a violent operation. On Thursday night, the conclusions were taken. But the context of the abductions extends far beyond the prisoner releases. The only way still open for the Palestinians to remind the Israelis of their existence and their plight is the path of violent struggle. All other paths have been blocked. If the Gaza Strip does not fire Qassam rockets at Israel, the Gaza Strip does not exist. And if, in the West Bank, yeshiva students are not abducted, then the West Bank disappears from Israel’s consciousness.’
Settlements have mushroomed in the occupied territories. More than 700,000 Israelis now live in them, with the number expected to rise to more than a million in the next few years. Israel has moreover been gradually taking over Arab East Jerusalem, and continues to desecrate Muslim and Christian holy places. Settlers continue to rampage in Palestinian villages, attacking their inhabitants and uprooting their orchards. The reason for all this is clear: to force the Palestinians off their lands and out of their ancestral homeland.
Meanwhile, Israel continues to build its Separation Wall, blockade Gaza, and generally make life miserable for the Palestinians. With all this in mind, no one has the right to criticize the kidnapping of the three settlers, or the attempted kidnappings that took place in the recent past (according to defence minister Moshe Ya’alon, Israel has prevented 30 such kidnappings in 2013 and 2014.)
Israel’s reaction to the kidnappings was far greater than its response, which shows how confused and angry the Israeli government is. The government is eager to avoid being blamed for negligence. That is why it has sought to export its problems to the PA, alleging that the recent reconciliation with Hamas was the reason for the kidnappings, and that the PA has failed to uphold its commitments to cooperate with Israel on security. But the Israeli government overlooks the fact that the kidnappings took place in Area ‘C’ that is under full Israeli security control.
It is a fact, however, that Israel has for years abandoned these designations; its forces have routinely been storming Palestinian towns and villages and arresting people at will. While successive Israeli governments have systematically violated the Oslo agreement, the Israelis still expect the Palestinians to uphold their commitments. This is unacceptable, even though President Abbas recently described security cooperation as ‘sacrosanct.’
From past experience, it is easy to see that military measures are seldom successful in securing the release of hostages. In fact, all that such measures are designed to do is reassure the Israeli public and pressure the Palestinians in order to force them to give up the kidnappers. Thus we heard an Israeli official say that the blockade of Hebron will continue, while the Israeli intelligence minister called on the international community to hold the PA responsible for the kidnapping because it agreed to form a government with Hamas.
The leader of Israel’s Labor Party meanwhile predicted that revived security cooperation between the PA and Israel would lead to the collapse of the [Fateh/Hamas] reconciliation, while the minister of housing called for all those Palestinians jailed for ‘terror’ offences to be executed. Hamas leaders have been threatened with deportation to Gaza and their houses razed. A Facebook campaign was launched calling for killing a Palestinian every hour until the kidnapped trio has been released. More than 10,000 Israelis signed up in its first three hours. Bitar, a young Zionist organization, wrote to the prime minister calling on him to kill [former Hamas Gaza PM] Ismail Haniyeh and [Fatah leader] Marwan Barghouti.
But will the kidnapping lead to a strategic shift in relations between Palestinians and Israelis? It is still too early to tell, if only because we have to await the outcome of the kidnapping. The kidnappers could after all have succeeded in spiriting their hostages to Gaza, Sinai, or even Jordan in which case intensive negotiations will take place to reach a prisoner swap deal. On the other hand, the kidnappers might well have killed the hostages then fled. The operation could well have been organized by Hamas, Islamic Jihad, or [Fateh’s] al-Aqsa Brigades, or it could have been an individual effort. The Israeli response would of course be different in each case. There is a possibility that ISIS [‘the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’] was involved.
In any case, the operation could result in an Israeli escalation that the PA simply cannot tolerate, which could lead it to abandon security cooperation and allow the Palestinian security forces a free hand to defend the Palestinian people. It could even lead to individual acts of retribution by Palestinian security personnel against Israeli soldiers.
On the other hand, the kidnapping and its aftermath could lead either to strengthening Palestinian unity or to the collapse of the reconciliation process, especially as it is still brittle and faces strong Israeli opposition. Alternatively, the Israelis could find and rescue the hostages and kill the kidnappers.
“At any rate, the outlook is grim and can be influenced by many factors. It is open to all possibilities. The Palestinians, despite forming a new unity government, are in no position to cope with such a situation, which brings us back to focus on the need for new strategies, a unified political program, and a unified leadership,” concludes Masri.