There is still no trace of three young seminary students Israel claims were kidnapped by Hamas. It's a quandary for Palestinian President Abbas, says Rene Wildangel of Germany's Heinrich Böll Foundation.
DW: Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has urged Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas to help find the kidnapped students. He told Abbas over the phone that he expects support in bringing the abducted teenagers home and apprehending the kidnappers. Is there really anything Abbas can do to help in this situation?
Rene Wildangel: By all means. Abbas and the security forces in the West Bank could possibly help out. What makes the situation so complicated is that the Israeli prime minister said from the start that it's clear Hamas is behind the kidnapping. He said he wanted to fight against the terrorist organization, adding it is the only way to get the three teenagers back. It's a very delicate situation for Abbas: he has just agreed to form a unity government with Hamas, which is also a political party. So far, there is no evidence that Hamas really is to blame. The group hasn't claimed responsibility as it has in the past, when Hamas carried out attacks. So the situation is unclear, making this demand highly difficult for Abbas.
On the one hand, Abbas cooperates with the Israeli government on security issues. On the other hand, he has been in the same boat with Hamas since the interim government was formed. How can Abbas manage the balancing act in this situation?
It will be very difficult, as the Israeli army and government are determined to take whatever action they can against Hamas. They have arrested some members of Hamas, including the Palestinian president of parliament. That's something Abbas can't really ignore.
But he also can't terminate security cooperation with Israel because that would mean no less than a complete re-occupation of the West Bank. That's also not an option because the United States and the Europeans not only support this security cooperation, they demand it. It would also lead to a breakdown of the entire Palestinian National Authority. There is no way Abbas can get out of this predicament.
If the fragile process of reconciliation that has just begun fails again, and if the unity government that was just formed falls apart, then prospects are bleak not only for the future of the peace process, but for the future situation in Israel and Palestine. In that case, there is no political path to continue on. Actually, this has been an opportunity. I get the impression that Netanyahu is using this kidnapping as an excuse to shatter the unity government.
A panel debate on "Fatah and Hamas- chance or threat in solving the Mideast conflict" at the Heinrich Böll Foundation
To what degree, if any, does the students' abduction play into Netanyahu's hands?
Of course, it's in his interest and in the interest of Israel's conservative parties to re-establish the former split between Hamas and Fatah. Previously, the Israeli government has repeatedly made it clear what it thinks of this unity government. This kidnapping offers the occasion to actually implement such policies. I don't want to sound cynical, after all three people were kidnapped and we can only hope the teenagers are safe. But I do miss context in the media reports about the events: you always have to remember that a Palestinian state still does not exist, that the Palestinian territory is fragmented and Israel still occupies a large part of the West Bank. More and more settlements have gone up there over the past years, and the Palestinians, for their part, suffer from the settlers' and the Israeli army's continuous attacks on civilians. It's an untenable situation.
Could the abduction have been a political signal to Abbas? After all, the young students were kidnapped just days after the creation of the interim government.
It's possible that people who want to disrupt the process may have consciously chosen the timing. The situation may become more radical if the political process in the Palestinian areas disintegrates even further and settlements spread out while other people no longer see prospects for their future.
That's why I fear that the Israeli army's approach of leaving no stone unturned in the West Bank and even searching private homes is very counterproductive. That attitude doesn't contribute to freeing the three teenagers, it will just lead to a further radicalization of the situation.
Could the current situation spell the end to Mahmud Abbas' political career?
In the past, we've already seen a subtle decline of the Palestinian political system, parties and leadership - created in the framework of the Oslo peace process - because they haven't managed to achieve the political goals. The occupation continues. The settlements are growing. There's speculation whether a third intifada may be in the wings because people are extremely dissatisfied. In addition, there's a massive economic crisis. No government can stay in power indefinitely if it doesn't implement its political goals. So Abbas is stuck in a double bind.
Rene Wildangel is the head of the Heinrich Böll Foundation in Ramallah. The Heinrich Böll Foundation is tied to the German Green party.