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 Israel.
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 Fatah.
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.
What 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 been considered.
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 soldier hostage.
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 Schalit.
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 UN.
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.