There’s something peculiarly familiar about the recent prisoner swap between Israel and Hamas. It’s not the swap itself – Israel and Palestinian groups have done prisoner swaps in the past as well as with Hezbollah. What’s familiar about this particular swap is that appears to be designed to undermine Fatah and bolster Hamas at a time when Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is seeking international recognition of a Palestinian state.
Several major media outlets have noticed this. Israeli daily Ha’aretz noted in an editorial:
“At a time when the Shalit deal is raising the stock of Hamas in the eyes of Palestinians in the territories, the Netanyahu government is making an effort to depict Fatah, committed to reaching a negotiated agreement with Israel, as devoid of purpose. Not a week goes by without news of a new building project in the territories or in East Jerusalem. A few days after the prime minister announced the imminent appointment of a panel to look for ways to legalize the settlements and outposts that were built on private Palestinians lands, Haaretz reported progress on a plan to create a new Jerusalem neighborhood on Israel Lands Administration land beyond the Green Line.”
The Washington Post reported in an article titled “Prisoner swap with Israel emboldens Hamas:”
“As busloads of freed Palestinians arrived in the West Bank, residents waved Hamas flags, a rare sight in the Palestinian enclave where the rival Fatah wing has traditionally been more popular. The exchange appears to have undermined the standing of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, leader of the more-moderate Fatah, while raising the profile of Hamas, which negotiated the exchange through Egyptian intermediaries.”
And the New York Times quoted Egyptian professor Mkhaimar Abusada saying:
“‘It seems to me that Israel is trying to undermine Abu Mazen politically after his historic speech at the U.N. General Assembly 20 days ago, and after the Palestinian, Arab and even international support for Abu Mazen,’ he said.”
Dr. Abusada’s assertion was backed up by a 24-year old taxi driver Yousef al-Daloo from Gaza City, who told the Times that “this is a victory for the steadfastness of the Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas.”
Why would the right-wing government of Benjamin Netanyahu want to bolster fundamentalist Hamas, a group responsible for hundreds of Israeli civilian deaths and is dedicated to Israel’s destruction since day one?
One possible reason is because all right-wing political parties can come to an understanding regardless of ideology, as Mondweiss observed. Right-wing groups have more in common with each other than they do with their left-wing countrymen given their overall reactionary, religious and bigoted orientations. Hamas and Likud are no different; they speak a common political language and have a common political understanding despite their national and ideological differences.
But the real reason – besides the obvious political gain – appears to be divide and conquer. Netanyahu didn’t conclude this deal in spite of Hamas benefiting from it, but because Hamas will benefit from the deal. Further evidence of this can be seen in Hamas declaring more kidnappings in the future. There’s no way the Israeli government couldn’t have known this; a violent Hamas could further division between the two Palestinian entities and give Israel a pretext to continue both the blockade and military reprisals, like the Gaza attack in 2008/09.
Bolstering Hamas with this deal at the expense of Fatah is nothing new. Israel collaborated with Hamas in the 1980s in order to neutralize the Palestine Liberation Organization during the first intifada and prevent Palestinians from forming a unified front, thereby continuing the occupation. It seems the Israelis are continuing this policy- this time in order to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state.