"The State of Israel views the Palestinian Authority led by President Abu Mazen and the Palestinian government as responsible for this [very serious act of Hamas terrorism] - with all this implies."
- Cabinet statement, June 25
A Hamas spokesman, speaking in Arabic and Hebrew, has called on "all factions" to treat Cpl. Gilad Shalit, captured in the Hamas raid yesterday, well. But Hamas's cowardly effort to claim "credit" for the attack for the purposes of its fight with Fatah, while at the same time pretending it has no responsibility for this act of aggression, should fool no one.
At a press conference yesterday, Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz said Hamas was responsible for the attack "from head to toe," and has been responsible for other attacks even when it was not openly taking credit for them. And, this time, Hamas's "military wing" is proudly standing behind the attack, and providing the explanation as well: It puts the lie to Fatah's claims that it has sewn up an agreement on the prisoners' document, which Fatah is claiming would amount to Hamas agreeing to end attacks.
It is striking that even when Palestinian factions are warring against each other that attacks against Israel become a currency in that conflict. Such analysis, however, is irrelevant to the issue of PA responsibility. The cabinet statement is correct: the PA has killed two Israeli soldiers, wounded others and taken one hostage. It is a criminal and terrorist regime and must be held responsible for its actions by Israel and the international community.
Just four days ago, at a meeting in Amman, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert reportedly "shook hands, embraced and kissed" PA President Mahmoud Abbas. At the same meeting, Olmert said, "But to the best of my knowledge, [Abbas] is not the prime minister of the Palestinian Authority" which is "controlled by a terrorist group... [that is] boycotted by the entire world."
Therein lies Israel's problem, fatally underlined by yesterday's cross-border attack. The prime minister must decide if Israel will play along with the PA's "good cop, bad cop" game, or will it hold the entire PA leadership responsible for increasingly direct, bold and deadly assaults against Israel?
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni reportedly called European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan after yesterday's cabinet meeting. We hope that she demanded not only that they take action to ensure that Shalit will be safely and unconditionally returned, but that the international community vocally back Israel and censure the PA.
We can hardly expect other countries to hold the PA accountable when our own government cannot decide whether Abbas is part of the problem or the solution.
At the same meeting at which he was so affectionately received by Olmert, Abbas finally and for the first time criticized suicide bombings not just on practical grounds (as in "not in Palestinian interests") but on moral and Islamic grounds. The same Abbas, however, essentially helped paved the way for yesterday's attack by joining in the chorus claiming that Israeli responses to Palestinian terrorism amounted to "genocide" and "crimes against humanity." Even if Abbas were pushing for a real peace with Israel, he is not in control of the PA, as Olmert himself points out. Finally, our attempts to "support" Abbas work to undermine what little leverage he might have.
Abbas's strongest argument against Hamas-led, Iranian-funded terrorism and aggression is that the PA in particular and Palestinians in general will suffer most from it. So far, however, Israel and the international community have been trying to walk a line so fine that it does not exist: between the PA and Hamas.
Israel should be pressing the Quartet and the UN Security Council to condemn PA aggression against Israel. But our government cannot do this credibly before it begins to consistently hold the PA, in its entirety, responsible for attacks emanating from territory from which Israel has completely withdrawn and which the PA fully controls.