Last May, addressing the World Economic Forum in Jordan, Mahmoud Abbas expressed his personal “prisoner’s dilemma.” The plight of security prisoners in Israeli jails (numbering roughly 5,000 individuals) is the primary concern of Palestinian society, Abbas reasoned, and Israel must do something about it.
As far as the average Palestinian is concerned, there are only two ways to free the prisoners: either through Israeli concessions as part of a negotiations process, or by abducting Israelis and swapping them for a large number of Palestinians.
“Do you want us to abduct other Shalits?” the Palestinian Authority president pleaded with his Israeli listeners, referring to Israeli Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit, captured by Hamas in June 2006 and released more than five years later in return for 1,027 Palestinian prisoners. “This is not part of our culture. We cannot do this.”
Abbas’s principled stance — challenged almost immediately by Hamas as unpatriotic — is being put to the test once again this week. But judging by the near-silence of his Fatah party on the abduction of the three teens, coupled by the gloating of official Palestinian media and social networks, Abbas, again, seems to stand on his own.
A caricature posted Sunday on Fatah’s official Facebook page depicted a new Palestinian “victory” sign, one where three fingers point upward rather than two, Palestinian Media Watch reported. In another caricature published by PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadidah, the FIFA World Cup logo showing three hands grabbing a virtual soccer ball was adapted to portray three small caricatures of Jews held in solid grips. Soon, a new hashtag was introduced by the Fatah Facebook page called “three Shalits,” and by Monday teenagers in Hamas youth camps were photographed flashing the three-finger victory sign as they marched through Rafah.
The sense of accomplishment that followed the kidnapping was not limited to social media, but appeared in official PA press as well. In a piece titled “An operation under the Israeli radar,” columnist Hassan Al-Batal wrote that even before any Palestinian group has announced responsibility for the kidnapping, one political end has already been achieved.
“The most important significance of this operation is that it forced the Israeli government, since the [establishment] of the Palestinian unity government and especially since the Thursday of the kidnapping, to treat the West Bank and Gaza as one political and security unit, for the first time since the [Hamas] coup in Gaza [in 2007],” Batal wrote.
Abbas’s condemnation statement issued Monday was markedly less moralistic than his speech at the World Economic Forum last year. “The Palestinian presidency condemns the chain of events that happened last week,” the message read, “starting with the kidnapping of three Israeli youths and ending with the series of successive Israeli violations.”
Caught between his own sense of morality and the apparent bipartisan Palestinian support for kidnappings, Abbas can hardly argue today that “this is not part of our culture… we cannot do this.” After all, it was Hamas that brought home 1,027 Palestinians while he was unable to bring about the release of even the full 104 prisoners agreed upon with Israel over nine months of futile negotiations.