The Israeli government is using the kidnapping of three youths to spread chaos and destroy Palestine’s unity government.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a weekly cabinet meeting in his office in Jerusalem.
The Israeli public has for the most part readily adopted the position of Prime Minister Netanyahu who stated that he knows “for a fact” that Hamas kidnapped the teenagers even while offering no evidence. A massive Israeli campaign calling on the international community to “bring back our boys” did not acknowledge the nearly 200 Palestinian children who are imprisoned illegally by Israel. Since the kidnapping, Israel launched massive raids on various cities and villages throughout the West Bank and searched private homes recklessly. 500 Palestinians were arrested so far and 5 people killed, including a 14 year old boy, yet the Israeli government has failed to provide evidence that Hamas was behind the kidnapping or locate the missing youth. Although no credible Palestinian group has claimed responsibility for the act, and while Hamas denied outright that it was involved, Netanyahu said that “those who perpetrated the abduction of our youths were members of Hamas — the same Hamas that Abu Mazen made a unity government with,” referring to the recent unity government formed between the secular Fatah and Islamist Hamas on June 2.
Kidnapping of soldiers and citizens tends to be seen as a form of psychological torture in Israel and in such times, passions run high, hateful incitement comes easy and difficult questions are often not asked. When Palestinian member of the Israeli parliament, Haneen Zoabi,claimed that the kidnappers should not be seen as terrorists, even though she may not agree with them, in light of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, she came under a barrage of personal attacks. Some have suggested that she is a “traitor” while other Israeli politicians likened her to al Qaeda. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said that Zoabi is a “terrorist” and clarified that “the fate of the kidnappers and the fate of the inciter who encourages kidnapping Hanin Zoabi should be the same.” Member of Knesset Ayelet Shaked of the Jewish Home Party introduced a “Zoabi law” to the Israeli parliament for its approval, in which those who support terrorism will be disqualified from running for parliament, although Zoabi had not expressed support for the act. Due to her statements, a criminal investigation will be launched against Zoabi by the Israeli police.
While Prime Minister Netanyahu called on Mahmoud Abbas to end the unity government, saying that “there can be no alliance with the kidnappers of children,” he has failed to provide evidence that Hamas was behind the act. Hamas would appear to have little incentive to carry out a kidnapping shortly after joining a unity government, thereby losing all international legitimacy. Indeed, the former head of the Missing in Action section of the Mossad, Rami Igra, said in an interview that Netanyahu’s explicit blaming of Hamas, also adopted by the United States,“is more political than based on fact.” In his view, there is no evidence for Hamas’ involvement and the group has not claimed responsibility for the act.
Similarly, Gershon Baskin, a prominent Israeli negotiator who was responsible for negotiations with Hamas regarding the release of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, wrote on his Facebook page that he highly doubts that Hamas was behind the action. Baskin stated that “the Israeli intelligence is convinced that the military wing of Hamas Ezzedine al Qassam is responsible for the abduction of the teens. A high level person within the intelligence community told me ‘100% it’s qassam.’ I just spoke with a senior Hamas official in Gaza who swears that it is not and doesn’t not believe that someone from Qassam would take this action without approval from the political level and he says “100% the political level did not approve this.” “Who to believe?” Baskin asked. “I think that the Israeli intelligence is guided by a misguided concept fostered by Netanyahu,” he wrote.
Since there is no evidence yet that Hamas carried out the kidnapping, an accusation that it strongly denies, and as the three youth remain out of sight, one may wonder if the Israeli government is not using the kidnapping to achieve certain political goals, as the former Mossad official suggested. Netanyahu appears to be using this opportunity to jeopardize the new Palestinian unity government, achieved after years of dispute, that received American recognition, despite Israel’s strong opposition to it. A massive arrest of Hamas members or their deportation can possibly neutralize the organization in the West Bank while limiting its power to Gaza. Holding Hamas guilty of conducting the kidnapping will grant credence to Israel’s claim that Hamas should be isolated by the international community and is not trustworthy.
Furthermore, as Israeli soldiers have been raiding Palestinian cities in large numbers, and as the death toll slowly mounts, it is possible that Netanyahu is hoping to ignite a third uprising (intifada), which would back his claim that Palestinians cannot be negotiated with and that they must be repressed by military means. Parents of the missing youth appeared before the UN Human Rights Council recently, yet they did not publicly confront Netanyahu on his incompetence in locating their missing children.
Judging by the past, Israel has conveniently accused Hamas of actions other groups committed and targeted the former accordingly to achieve its political goals. In August 2011, following a bloody attack carried out by a jihadist group from Sinai near the Israeli city of Eilat, Israel chose to blame Hamas for the attack andbombed various targets in Gaza, although it failed to provide concrete evidence linking it to the act. The recent kidnapping came at a time of uncertainty, as Israel faced immense pressure to recognize the Palestinian unity government. It therefore should come as little surprise that Netanyahu has utilized the occasion to deflect international pressure and jeopardize a Palestinian unity government, thereby avoiding the need to make a peace agreement that would involve giving Palestinians independence in the West Bank. However, such political uses of a tragedy, if indeed this is the case, do not come without their dangers. As Baskin has warned, focusing on Hamas may be a distraction from following the actual perpetrators and disrupting a unity government may lead to even greater chaos.