For Hamas, it’s all about the money

Recent escalation in Gaza may be result of internal struggles, as Fatah-Hamas reconciliation stands on the brink

Avi Issacharoff

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.

Abu Ubeida (right), the official spokesperson of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam  Brigade, the armed wing of Hamas, at a press conference on July 3, 2014, in Gaza City (photo credit: AFP/Mohammed Abed)
Abu Ubeida (right), the official spokesperson of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigade, the armed wing of Hamas, at a press conference on July 3, 2014, in Gaza City (photo credit: AFP/Mohammed Abed)

The Palestinian reconciliation deal between Hamas and Fatah looks as though it is about to evaporate into thin air in the West Bank and Gaza.

Hamas’s Al-Aqsa TV reported Friday night that Hamas ministers will return to work as sole rulers of the Gaza Strip by the 15th of Ramadan (July 13) if the Palestinian Authority doesn’t pay the salaries of roughly 40,000 Hamas government clerks. Those same 40,000 Palestinians have been the focus of discord between Fatah and Hamas since the formation of the national unity government in April.

Hamas has demanded that the the government pay its workers, while Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and his associates claimed that the reconciliation agreement had dictated that a special committee would decide which employees would continue to work for the PA government and receive salaries from it. Those decisions have yet to be made.

Qatar has already expressed willingness to front the funds, but there is no way to do so — banks refuse to transfer the money to Hamas members’ accounts because of international laws restricting aid to terrorist groups, and Egypt refuses to let Qatar transfer cash overland into the Gaza Strip. Abbas, for his part, is not prepared to pay the salaries, and certainly not after the kidnapping and murders of three Israeli teens last month.

For the time being the rocket fire from Gaza into Israel continues. It appears as if Hamas is conveying a message to the various small factions that they’re allowed to launch, and that it doesn’t intend to stop them.

Israeli experts claim time and again that Hamas is in a state of unprecedented weakness because of the IDF crackdown in the West Bank, and that perhaps this is what’s caused it to resort to rocket fire at Israel.

The true story is likely a little different, and the blow the organization has suffered in the West Bank is not as mortal as the IDF describes. It would appear as if Hamas’s weakness in Gaza and the renewal of rocket fire by the Islamist group stem from the salary crisis and the failure of the reconciliation deal with Fatah. At present the organization does not possess the means to pay its people’s salaries. Its greatest concern is that public frustration in Gaza will ultimately be directed at its members. Perhaps, then, Hamas feels it’s better to create tension with Israel (not a full-scale escalation) in a bid to increase pressure on Egypt to permit the transfer of funds or salaries to the Gaza Strip.

On Friday evening, an anonymous senior Hamas official spoke to the Palestinian Sawa news agency. He said that “those who expect Hamas to stop the rocket fire (against Israel), should turn to (Palestinian Authority Prime Minister) Rami Hamdallah.” He added that the situation in the Gaza Strip was the consequence of not paying Hamas clerks’ salaries.

In other words: Salaries in exchange for calm.

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