Fatah officials on Monday expressed support for Hamas's demand to release Palestinian prisoners held in Israel in return for kidnapped IDF soldier Cpl. Gilad Shalit and called on all Palestinians factions to unite "in the face of Israel's ongoing aggression on the Palestinians."
The abduction of Shalit and Israel's subsequent measures - including military operations and the arrest of scores of Hamas ministers and legislators - have resulted in rapprochement between Hamas and Fatah following months of bickering and fighting.
In a unique gesture to Hamas, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday accompanied Hamas's Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh on a visit to the ruins of the prime minister's office, which was destroyed in an Israeli air raid.
The joint appearance of the two was aimed at sending a message that all Palestinians were united in the face of Israel's threats and actions. Although Abbas and some in his Fatah party had condemned the attack on the IDF post that resulted in the abduction of Shalit and the killing of two IDF soldiers, they have openly backed Hamas's call for the release of prisoners from Israeli jails.
Palestinians across the political spectrum appear to be united in supporting the attack on the IDF post and the demands of the captors. The Palestinian street has also shown a great deal of understanding for the captors' demands.
Over the past week, thousands of Palestinians have demonstrated in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to urge the kidnappers not to release Shalit unless Israel agreed to a prisoner swap. Among the demonstrators were many Fatah supporters. Even the families of Jordanian prisoners held in Israel have joined the chorus by calling on Hamas not to succumb to the pressure.
In the aftermath of the crackdown on Hamas officials, Fatah representatives were among the first to condemn the arrests, saying they would not allow Israel to bring down the Hamas government.
The PA security forces, which consist largely of Fatah members, are also said to be supportive of the kidnappers' demands. This explains why these forces have thus far refused to make a serious effort to track down the whereabouts of the soldier.
Abbas has at least 35,000 officers and policemen in the Gaza Strip. Some Palestinians believe that if these forces really wanted to do so, they could easily find the place where Shalit is being held. But the problem is that many of these policemen have colleagues or relatives who are in Israeli jails and the last thing they would want to do is obstruct their release, even if it's at the hands of Hamas.
"The Palestinians have the right to exchange the soldier for their prisoners," said Issa Karaki, a Fatah legislator from Bethlehem who also heads the Palestinian Prisoners' Club in the West Bank. "This is an act of self-defense."
He added: "Why are we reluctant to talk openly about the need for a prisoner swap? Does the soldier have a mother while our prisoners don't? Is his mother the only one crying? What about our mothers, aren't they also crying for their beloved ones?"
Another Fatah leader who has come out in public in support of the kidnappers' demands is Muhammad Dahlan, a former security commander in the Gaza Strip.
"We have about 10,000 prisoners in Israeli jails and the time has come for their release," he said. "Some of them have spent over 25 years behind bars."
In a related development, the Palestinian Legislative Council held an emergency meeting here on Monday for the first time since more than 20 of its members were arrested by the IDF. PLC Speaker Aziz Dweik accused Israel of "kidnapping" Hamas legislators and ministers without justification.
"Israel has kidnapped Palestinian legitimacy," he told reporters. "Israel's measures won't prevent us from pursuing our just cause." Dweik said he was not afraid of being arrested.
Hamas spokesman Salah al-Bardaweel said Israel had no right to put the Hamas officials on trial because they have parliamentary immunity. "Israel's decision to bring them to trial is nonsense and we will never recognize the Israeli judicial system," he said. "We're not criminals."