Alan Baker, a former legal advisor to Israel’s Foreign Ministry, made an important point in yesterday’s Jerusalem Post: Once Fatah and Hamas finalize their planned Palestinian unity government, the Palestinian Authority will no longer be able to disclaim responsibility for what happens in Gaza. Inter alia, that means it won’t be able to disclaim responsibility for Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier kidnapped by Hamas in a cross-border raid five years ago.
As Baker noted, this leaves the PA with three choices. One is to secure Shalit’s release. The second is to admit direct complicity in a war crime: Even if you buy Hamas sympathizers’ claim that Shalit is a legitimate prisoner of war, holding him incommunicado for five years, without even visits by the Red Cross, is a war crime by any standard. The third is to admit that, unity government notwithstanding, the PA still doesn’t actually control Gaza—in which case it fails to meet a basic requirement for statehood under the Montevideo Convention: governmental control over the relevant territory.
Where Baker is wrong, however, is saying this makes Shalit’s fate a crucial test for the new PA government, because the PA has no reason to believe the world will care. Why should the PA worry about complicity in a war crime if the European Union and the Obama administration will nevertheless keep giving it hundreds of millions of dollars a year? Alternatively, why should it worry about lacking de-facto control over Gaza if the vast majority of the world’s countries will recognize a Palestinian state in the pre-1967 lines come September anyway?
Thus rather than being a test for the PA, this is a test for the West. Both the EU and Washington have repeatedly condemned Shalit’s ongoing captivity. Will they now put their money—and their UN votes—where their mouths are and insist that the PA release him as the price of continued funding or recognition? Or will they follow the usual pattern of refusing to penalize the PA no matter what it does?
For the EU, the answer is self-evident: There’s no chance of its ever penalizing the PA. But the Europeans ought to at least be forced to confront their own hypocrisy on human rights instead of being allowed to sweep it comfortably under the rug. The Obama administration, in contrast, might act, but only if it feels sufficient pressure.
Yet neither the EU nor Washington will feel any pressure at all unless Israel and its overseas supporters make an issue of Shalit. And many Israel supporters won’t feel comfortable pressing this issue if Israel’s government seems indifferent.
Ultimately, therefore, this is a test for Jerusalem: Will it press the PA hard over this issue and lobby Western countries to do the same? Or would it rather choose between abandoning Shalit and tamely accepting Hamas’s terms—1,000 terrorists for one kidnapped soldier?