|Alan Baker 58.(Photo by: Courtesy)|
The Gilad Schalit test
The legitimacy of the Hamas-Fatah unity deal should have to depend on whether the new Palestinian governing body releases the IDF soldier.
The Fatah-Hamas “reconciliation” may be interpreted from many angles as being
positive or negative; a source for optimism or pessimism; a strikingly positive
development or a sign of trouble.
But however it is seen, numerous
practical questions have yet to be answered.
If this curious truce
manages to hold despite the immense chasm – religious, philosophical, strategic
and political – between the two bodies, one may well ask if Fatah will be able
to influence Hamas and bring it to a more pragmatic mind-set regarding how a
Palestinian/Hamas political entity will be perceived by the international
community, and more specifically how to advance the concept of peaceful
relations between such an entity – whether a state or not – and
Would Hamas, as a fundamentalist Islamic movement, be capable of
compromising its principles, based as they are on a strict interpretation of the
Koran? Could such a religiously stringent organization ever consider amending
its basic charter? No less naïve a question may be asked about
Does it have the strength of purpose and the public, social and
military ability to impose its will on Hamas? Lacking such strengths, will it
find itself compromising on its commitments vis à vis the international
community and Israel, and thereby pushing back any hope of peaceful relations?
Another relevant question is whether those in the international community who
have so enthusiastically welcomed the reconciliation really thought about the
“nitty gritty” of this truce – how exactly it will work, and whether it will
constitute an ongoing threat to the political arrangements, accords,
understandings and treaties that have been developed over the years.
is certain is that if this truce succeeds in materializing as a viable form of
Palestinian governance vis à vis the international community and Israel (which
appears highly unlikely), its leaders, whoever they may be, will be faced with a
series of obligations, responsibilities and challenges that have probably not
IN THIS context, perhaps the most pressing challenge
will be the Gilad Schalit issue. The significance of the merger would place the
responsibility for Schalit directly and openly on the shoulders of the merged
governing body. No longer would he be the hostage of an illegal, widely
condemned and shunned terrorist organization; he would become an official
hostage of the new joint administration.
Clearly it would be
inconceivable that any such merged governing body composed of Fatah and Hamas,
claiming to be a legitimate international representative of the Palestinian
people at the United Nations, could at the same time continue to hold an Israeli
Not only would this run contrary to humanitarian norms
and international conventions, but it would constitute a direct and blatant
violation of the most basic Palestinian obligation not to engage in acts of
terror, including Yasser Arafat’s own solemn undertaking in his 1993 letter to
prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.
From the moment the merged governing
authority becomes the representative of the Palestinian people, it will have
direct responsibility for the fate of Schalit, and will be answerable not only
to Israel, but to the world for his continued illegal imprisonment, and for the
dire conditions under which he is being held.
Such a situation would
clearly be incompatible with any claim of legitimacy or acceptability in the
international community. Its continuation would place a dark cloud of hypocrisy
and double standards over the UN and the international community – a cloud even
darker than what exists already.
Thus the real test regarding the
seriousness of the reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas – and proof of a
genuine desire for respectability and acceptability in the international
community – will be the immediate and unconditional release of the hostage
Whether a reconciled Palestinian administration, should it
indeed arise, will have the political wisdom and the practical ability to free
Schalit will be the cardinal question, and should be so considered by those
states currently being called upon by Mahmoud Abbas and chief negotiator Saeb
Erekat to support their proposal to have a state recognized by the
The writer, a former legal adviser of the Foreign Ministry and former
ambassador to Canada, is a partner in the Tel Aviv law firm of Moshe,
Bloomfield, Kobo, Baker & Co, and director of the Institute for Contemporary
Affairs at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.