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Missing Settlers Become Weapons in a War on Unity

By       Message Ramzy Baroud     Permalink
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Cross-posted from The Palestine Chronicle


Israeli soldiers patrol in the search for three Jewish settlers in Hebron.
(Image by (AA via MEE))
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When three teenage Israeli settlers from the illegal Jewish settlement of Gush Etzion went missing on 12 June, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saw an opportunity to discredit the fledgling Palestinian unity government.

His statements and the actions of the Israeli army since have centered on indicting the Palestinian movement Hamas, while also holding the Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas responsible for the safety of the settlers.

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But is there a link between the newly formed Palestinian unity government and the safety of illegal settlers in the West Bank? According to Netanyahu there is.

Scores of Palestinians have been rounded up by the Israeli army since the disappearances in what could be considered a mass arrest campaign, mostly in the Hebron region. Many of those arrested were Hamas members, including senior figures in the movement.

"Those who carried out the kidnapping of our youngsters are Hamas people," Netanyahu insisted at a cabinet meeting on Sunday.

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Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri has since described the statements by Netanyahu as "silly." He added that targeting Hamas figures through arrests was "aimed at breaking the will of the Hamas movement in the West Bank."

Israeli officials were quick to link the disappearance of the settlers -- the 16-year-olds Naftali Frenkel and Gilad Shaar and 19-year-old Eyal Yifrach -- to the newly-formed unity government.

A day after the three went missing, US Secretary of State John Kerry phoned Netanyahu to express his government's concern. According to the daily Jerusalem Post, he also contacted PA President Mahmoud Abbas with the same message.

The PA is reportedly cooperating. "The Israelis and the Palestinian Authority are working closely together on efforts to find the three teenagers and to hopefully bring a quick resolution to the matter," a Washington official told the post.

No concerns were offered regarding hundreds of Palestinian children and teenagers in Israeli jails. For some reason, both issues are treated as entirely different subjects.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu is capitalizing on the story in every way he can. In his call with Kerry, he claimed that the alleged kidnappings were "the destructive result" of the newly formed PA unity government.

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Since PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah announced a transitional government as a first step towards reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah, Netanyahu along with other Israeli officials have been working hard to thwart its mission.

Netanyahu is insisting that the unity government must be dissolved and the unity pact with Hamas dismissed if he is ever to return to the negotiations table. But what talks is he referring to?

US-backed peace talks failed this year to take a step forward because Netanyahu carried on seizing Palestinian land and expanding settlements. He didn't even fulfill the largely symbolic promise of releasing a few Palestinian political prisoners -- something which would have allowed Abbas to save face and carry on with the talks.

Abbas on 12 June dropped the condition of an Israeli settlement freeze, and was ready to settle with the release of some long-serving prisoners, yet Netanyahu still found this unacceptable.

In a statement two days later to Israel Radio, Netanyahu described the gesture as "meaningless."

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Ramzy Baroud is the Managing Editor of Middle East Eye. He is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza's Untold (more...)
 

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