PA may consider declaring Gaza ‘rebel district,’ cutting enclave off

Ramallah official admits move would likely worsen humanitarian situation in Strip; ‘We hope Hamas will wake up’

Khaled Abu Toameh is the Palestinian Affairs correspondent for The Times of Israel

Palestinians collect aid parcels at a United Nations food distribution center in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip, January 28, 2018. (Said Khatib/AFP)
Palestinians collect aid parcels at a United Nations food distribution center in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip, January 28, 2018. (Said Khatib/AFP)

The Palestinian Authority may study the possibility of declaring the Gaza Strip a rogue area, solidifying the split between the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

A senior Fatah official told The Times of Israel on Tuesday that he could not rule out the possibility of declaring the Gaza Strip as a “rebel district” if the crisis between Hamas and Fatah is not resolved in the near future.

In a speech before Palestinian leaders on Monday evening, Abbas threatened to take “national, legal, and financial measures” against Hamas. However, Abbas did not provide further details about his planned sanctions.

The Fatah official, who was speaking on condition of anonymity, said during an interview in his office in Ramallah that declaring the Gaza Strip a “rebel district” would exempt the PA government from all its responsibilities toward the coastal enclave.

“Declaring Gaza as a rebel district would mean that the Palestinian Authority will no longer be responsible for anything there,” the official said.

“In a way, it would be like a divorce between the West Bank and Gaza Strip. We hope that this will not happen and that Hamas will wake up and realize that its policies and actions are very harmful and destructive to the Palestinian people and their national project.”

The official acknowledged that such a move would result in a severe humanitarian and economic crisis in the Gaza Strip.

The PA has in the past raised the “rebel district” option as part of its effort to pressure Hamas to give up its control of the enclave. However, no decision in this regard was ever taken or made public.

UN officials have warned with increasing alarm in recent months that the Strip is facing a massive humanitarian crisis, with clean water running out and unemployment skyrocketing. Hamas officials and others have pointed to sanctions leveled by Abbas meant to squeeze the rival Hamas movement as a major factor crippling the Strip’s 1.5 million residents, as unity efforts have faltered.

A split between the Strip and West Bank would likely complicate peace efforts and worsen the humanitarian situation in the Strip.

A Palestinian man sits next to a cart in Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip on March 14, 2018 (AFP PHOTO / MOHAMMED ABED)

Earlier in the day, EU Foreign Policy chief Federica Mogherini warned that a split was unacceptable.

“We see it very clearly: the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza belong together. There is no State of Palestine without Gaza, nor with Gaza alone,” she said at a meeting of donor countries to Gaza. “This is why we expect all Palestinian factions to defy the spoilers and continue on the path of reconciliation, with courage and determination. The situation is extremely fragile.”

The Palestinian official said that, despite mounting tensions between the two parties, the PA leadership will continue to work towards achieving national unity and “reconciliation” between Hamas and Fatah.

Hamas has been the defacto ruler of the Gaza Strip since a bloody coup in 2007, while Abbas’s Fatah movement has dominated the West Bank, which is ruled by the Palestinian Authority. Successive reconciliation efforts between the rival groups have failed.

On Tuesday, the PA government called on terror group Hamas to relinquish control over the Gaza Strip immediately, saying it was prepared to assume its full responsibilities there.

The government said after its weekly meeting in Ramallah that the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip will remain at the top of its list of priorities.

The government claimed that last week’s bombing of Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah’s convoy in the northern Gaza Strip was part of a “big conspiracy to separate the Gaza Strip from the West Bank and east Jerusalem. The “conspiracy calls for establishing a separate Palestinian entity in the Gaza Strip,” the government said in a statement, after its weekly cabinet meeting.

Friedman ‘ambassador of the settlers’

Meanwhile, the PA on Tuesday continued its attacks on US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, this time accusing him of anti-Semitism and racism.

The PA Foreign Ministry said that Friedman’s statements and actions against the Palestinians contravened diplomatic norms.

Friedman’s conduct and rhetoric, the ministry charged, represent the “ugliest forms of anti-Semitism and constitute a flagrant violation of international laws and United Nations resolutions pertaining to the Israeli-Arab conflict.”

While anti-Semitism normally refers exclusively to anti-Jewish sentiment, some Palestinians say it should extend to all Semitic peoples, including Palestinians.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas sits in front of a picture of the Dome of the Rock mosque in Jerusalem’s Old City during a meeting of the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank city of Ramallah on March 19, 2018. (FLASH90)

“Did Friedman ever have the courage to criticize the state of occupation for any of the crimes it has committed against the defenseless Palestinians?” the ministry asked in a statement.

“Day after day, Friedman is proving that he’s the ambassador of the settlers and their gangs and that he has endorsed the ideology and positions of the extreme right wing in Israel.”

The PA ministry lashed out at Friedman for his”hateful and racist” tweets, apparently referring to a Twitter message Monday in which Friedman criticized the PA for failing to condemn terror attacks against Israelis.

The fact that the US ambassador owns a house in a settlement shows that he has lost his balance, the statement said. It was not clear what home the Palestinians were referring to. While Friedman has donated money to the settlement of Beit El, he is not known to own any homes in the West Bank.

Abbas’s ruling Fatah faction also continued its attack on the US administration, accusing it of displaying the “highest degree of political hypocrisy” in its dealings with the Palestinians and the PA president.

“The White House is cutting aid to UNRWA and threatening to shut the PLO office in Washington, while at the same time inviting Abbas to continue with the peace process,” said Fatah spokesperson Osama Qawassmeh. “The deal of the century will not pass and our people are rallying behind our president in the face of the Israeli-American aggression.”

US President Donald Trump has referred to his long-awaited plan for peace in the Middle East as the “deal of the century.” Although the plan has still not been made public, the Palestinians have rejected it and vowed to thwart it.

The PA government also lashed out at the US administration’s purported peace plan, dubbing it a “trick” and an attempt to divert attention from Israel’s continued effort to “complete its settler projects and the Judaization of Jerusalem.”

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