Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is set to issue a dramatic ultimatum to the Gaza Strip’s terrorist Hamas rulers, demanding that they either hand over governance of the area or face a funding freeze, sources close to the Palestinian leader said.
Should the PA stop all payments to the Gaza Strip it would mark a complete break between the West Bank, which Abbas controls, and the coastal enclave, which is ruled by Hamas. Needless to say, such an ultimatum would significantly ramp up tensions between Abbas’s Fatah party and Hamas.
Hamas seized power in Gaza from the PA in a violent coup in 2007. Israel and Egypt then initiated a blockade officially geared toward preventing the terror group, avowedly committed to the destruction of Israel, from importing weaponry and materiel into Gaza.
While a PA threat to sever ties with Gaza might sound not sound like a major shift — the PA doesn’t exercise control of the coastal enclave – for Palestinians, the move would have dramatic and far-reaching implications.
First, it would constitute official recognition of the split between Gaza and the West Bank, a divide that over the past decade Fatah and Hamas refused to acknowledge.
Further, a decision by the PA to stop paying Gaza’s bills, including for power and water, would be very noticeable on the practical level. For one thing, the acute energy crisis in Gaza would get much worse. Until recently, at least, the PA paid for the fuel for Gaza’s power station, which ground to a halt last week after running out of oil, leaving the Strip’s two million residents without power for most hours of the day.
Ramallah also pays for the medical treatments that Palestinians from Gaza sometimes qualify for in Israeli hospitals, such as chemotherapy and complex surgeries.
Should the PA cut off funding, its not clear how Hamas could react. The group could try and cover the bills itself, or try to bring international and Arab pressure on the PA and Israel by painting them as imposing a terrible siege on Gaza, leading to thousands starving.
Hamas could also instigate a confrontation with Israel to extract itself from mounting internal pressure over the Strip’s economy, as it did in 2014.
Among Fatah’s leadership there is a consensus supporting the measure. More than one senior official told The Times of Israel that there is no sense in maintaining the current situation.
“This time, Abbas is serious” one official said on condition of anonymity. “He doesn’t plan to drag things out and is unwilling to allow Hamas to continue to play games and drag its feet. It can either hand over authority in Gaza to us, or take responsibility and start to pay.”
Officials said that while Hamas is collecting tens of millions of dollars in taxes from the residents of Gaza, it is in no hurry to help the PA pay to run the Strip.
“It’s incomprehensible,” one official said. “In the past 10 years Hamas’s coffers have been enriched by more than a billion dollars in taxes, and yet they never shared the [financial] burden of the Strip. They invested most of it in their military wing.”
Seeking to put pressure on Hamas, Abbas has recently slashed the salaries of thousands of former civil servants in Gaza and imposed a tax on fuel shipments to Hamas-ruled Gaza.
Senior Hamas official Khalil al-Hayya told reporters on April 18 that Abbas’ threat to take “unprecedented steps” to restore political unity to the Palestinian territory would not succeed.
“Gaza can’t be threatened or terrified and Hamas doesn’t accept threats,” he said.
Al-Hayya called on Abbas to reverse the measures.
AP contributed to this report.