PA prevents Gaza from receiving Qatari fuel aid, increasing danger of violence

Palestinian sources say Ramallah warned it would boycott Israeli fuel, told fuel workers in Strip not to show up to work, as Abbas tightens stranglehold on the enclave

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.

Trucks carrying fuel for the Gaza Strip enter Rafah through the Kerem Shalom crossing between Israel and the southern Gaza Strip on March 16, 2014. (AFP Photo/Said Khatib)
Trucks carrying fuel for the Gaza Strip enter Rafah through the Kerem Shalom crossing between Israel and the southern Gaza Strip on March 16, 2014. (AFP Photo/Said Khatib)

For the umpteenth time in recent months, Israel has received proof that severed relations between Jerusalem and Ramallah and between Ramallah and Gaza could significantly compromise security on the Gaza border.

Palestinian sources said Thursday that threats made by the Palestinian Authority to an Israeli gas company and to UN employees have delayed the planned transfer of emergency Qatari-funded fuel to Gaza.

The latest fracas shows how attempts by the US administration and by Israel to deal directly with Gaza — actually with Hamas, the terror group that runs the Strip — are time and again hindered by the PA and its president, Mahmoud Abbas.

As Haaretz reported Thursday, in recent days it was agreed in a meeting of donors to the Strip that Qatar would pay for fuel for Gaza’s sole power plant, under a UN-brokered deal that seeks to end the severe energy crisis gripping the Palestinian enclave.

According to a Palestinian report, Qatar will invest $60 million, which should be enough for six months in which Gazans will enjoy eight hours of electricity every day, instead of the current four.

Yes, that still means power for only a third of every day, but in Gaza terms that would be real improvement. Such a step could help calm tensions on the border and reduce the danger of imminent war.

Screen capture from video of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaking at the 73rd United Nations General Assembly, September 27, 2018. (United Nations)

The move was promoted by three men: Qatari envoy to Israel and Gaza Mohammed Al-Emadi, UN envoy to the Middle East Nikolai Mladenov and the head of Israel’s National Security Council Meir Ben Shabbat.

The diesel fuel was supposed to enter Gaza on Thursday morning through the Kerem Shalom crossing.

However, according to Palestinian sources in Gaza, the Palestinian Authority contacted the Israeli gas company that provides diesel fuel to both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and threatened to boycott it and stop all purchases if it transferred the fuel to Gaza. The PA warned it would start buying all its fuel and gas from another country, such as Jordan.

The sources also said PA officials called UN employees in Gaza who were to physically transfer the fuel and threatened that they would pay a “heavy price” if they showed up to work.

In other words, the PA blocked an improvement in the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip, primarily to make clear to the whole world that it must be involved in any step regarding the territory.

Abbas has repeatedly warned that that there can be no two separate entities ruling Palestinian lands, stating that if the PA is not handed complete control of the Gaza Strip, Hamas will have to take full responsibility for the territory.

The PA’s actions bring us to Hamas leader in the Strip Yahya Sinwar’s interview with Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth through an Italian journalist, in which he said he did not want war with the Jewish state. Predictably, Sinwar’s office denied Thursday morning that he was aware he was speaking to Yedioth, saying the interview was given to Italian newspaper La Repubblica and that his staff had checked that the journalist, Francesca Borri, wasn’t Israeli or “Jewish.”

Yahya Sinwar, the Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip, speaks to foreign correspondents in his office in Gaza City on Thursday, May 10, 2018. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

But that trick by Hamas’s leaders is old and familiar. At the end of the day, what’s important is the message. Sinwar wanted to warn that both sides are on a slippery slope to an inevitable war.

Though he urged an end to the blockade to prevent such a war, his message doesn’t necessarily involve a demand for specific action by Israel, but rather that Israel force the PA into relieving its chokehold on Gaza. Israel maintains the blockade to prevent Hamas from importing weaponry.

In about two weeks, the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Executive Committee will convene and possibly resolve to completely halt all its payments to Gaza, which currently stand at $96 million a month.

In such a scenario, even the stalled Qatari aid of some $60 million won’t stop the Strip’s collapse and the war that will follow.

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