Abbas may cut off cash to Gaza, marking break with West Bank
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Abbas may cut off cash to Gaza, marking break with West Bank

Sources say Palestinian Authority leader is planning to give Hamas an ultimatum: Accept our rule or we'll stop paying your bills

Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel's Middle East analyst, fills the same role for Walla, the leading portal in Israel. He is also a guest commentator on many different radio shows and current affairs programs on television. Until 2012, he was a reporter and commentator on Arab affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. He also lectures on modern Palestinian history at Tel Aviv University, and is currently writing a script for an action-drama series for the Israeli satellite Television "YES." Born in Jerusalem, he graduated cum laude from Ben Gurion University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and then earned his M.A. from Tel Aviv University on the same subject, also cum laude. A fluent Arabic speaker, Avi was the Middle East Affairs correspondent for Israeli Public Radio covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the Arab countries between the years 2003-2006. Avi directed and edited short documentary films on Israeli television programs dealing with the Middle East. In 2002 he won the "best reporter" award for the "Israel Radio” for his coverage of the second intifada. In 2004, together with Amos Harel, he wrote "The Seventh War - How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians." A year later the book won an award from the Institute for Strategic Studies for containing the best research on security affairs in Israel. In 2008, Issacharoff and Harel published their second book, entitled "34 Days - The Story of the Second Lebanon War," which won the same prize.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas gestures after delivering a speech on the second day of the 7th Fatah Congress in the West Bank city of Ramallah on November 30, 2016. (AFP/Abbas Momani)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas gestures after delivering a speech on the second day of the 7th Fatah Congress in the West Bank city of Ramallah on November 30, 2016. (AFP/Abbas Momani)

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.

A Palestinian woman helps her son study by candlelight, at their makeshift home in the Khan Yunis refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip, April 19, 2017. (AFP/MAHMUD HAMS)
A Palestinian woman helps her son study by candlelight, at their makeshift home in the Khan Yunis refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip, April 19, 2017. (AFP/MAHMUD HAMS)

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.

Gaza supporters of the Palestinian Hamas movement hold crossed-out portraits of Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas (C) and prime minister Rami Hamdallah during a protest on April 14, 2017, in Khan Yunis. (AFP PHOTO / SAID KHATIB)
Gaza supporters of the Palestinian Hamas movement hold crossed-out portraits of Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas (C) and prime minister Rami Hamdallah during a protest on April 14, 2017, in Khan Yunis. (AFP PHOTO / SAID KHATIB)

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.

Members of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the militant wing of the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, patrol during a rally to mark Land Day near the Israeli border with east Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, March 30, 2017. (AFP/SAID KHATIB)
Members of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the militant wing of the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, patrol during a rally to mark Land Day near the Israeli border with east Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, March 30, 2017. (AFP/SAID KHATIB)

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 holds a press conference on April 18, 2017 in Gaza City. AFP / MAHMUD HAMS)
Senior Hamas official Khalil al-Hayya holds a press conference on April 18, 2017 in Gaza City. AFP / MAHMUD HAMS)

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.

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