Kidnapping Crisis Rocks Palestinian Unity Gov’t, as Fatah Officials Lash Out at Hamas

Officials from the Fatah faction of Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas have spent recent days openly lashing out against the rival Hamas faction as evidence continued to emerge – acknowledged by the Americans, by the Israelis, and by Fatah officials themselves – that the terror group was linked to last Thursday’s abduction of three Israeli teenagers traveling through the West Bank.

The crisis comes just a weeks after Abbas inked a unity pact with Hamas leaders under which they agreed to the formation of a consensus government that would have jurisdiction over both the Hamas-dominated Gaza Strip and over Fatah-controlled portions of the West Bank. The subsequent formation of the new cabinet generated substantial controversy and cost Abbas and his international supporters significant political and diplomatic capital, but eventually Western governments – including the Obama administration – had decided to continue supporting Ramallah.

Washington had in particular worked closely with PA officials to avoid running afoul of U.S. laws restricting aid to governments that include Hamas.

Fatah figures are now said to be seething over what they consider to be something between recklessness and betrayal on the part of Hamas. Abbas publicly condemned the abductions on Monday. Veteran Arab affairs reporter Avi Issacharoff has since that condemnation published a series of articles quoting Abbas’s allies conveying open anger and promises of retribution. A Monday afternoon article contained accusations that ‘Hamas was trying to undermine the relative peace in the West Bank and foment unrest against both Israel and the Palestinian Authority':

In off-the-record conversations, confidants of Abbas’s say that Hamas will pay a steep price for the kidnapping — beyond the massive Israeli operation to recover the abductees, Eyal Yifrach, Gil-ad Shaar and Naftali Frenkel — in the form of punitive steps with which the PA plans to target Hamas in Gaza.

A story published by Issacharoff a few hours later confirmed Hamas’s involvement in the abductions and quoted a Fatah source insisting that Hamas had promised not to engage in violent operations as a condition for the unity pact. The same source emphasized that “if it becomes clear that Hamas is responsible for the kidnapping and breached the agreement, that would mark the crossing of a red line from our point of view, and we could not maintain the reconciliation status quo.”

A day later Issacharoff published an article seemingly confirming that Fatah had taken steps to roll back the reconciliation:

Following statements made Monday by a senior Palestinian official, who told The Times of Israel that if it was proved that Hamas was behind the kidnappings the PA would reevaluate the unity pact, the Palestinian government convened on Tuesday and decided that it would continue to refrain from paying the salaries of former Hamas government officials, some 40,000 in number.

The salaries issue was a focus of tension between Hamas and Fatah after the reconciliation agreement was signed, and banks in the Gaza Strip were closed for six days after the Hamas worker’s salaries were not transferred.

Additionally, Fatah has stopped holding deliberations and meetings of the committee that is to examine the integration of Hamas into PLO institutions, and has decided not to convene the Palestinian parliament, which was to occur in another three weeks’ time.

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