The Fatah-Hamas honeymoon is already over

Days after PA unity government was sworn in, the two rival movements are fighting over salaries and arresting each other

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.

Head of the Hamas government Ismail Haniyeh (right) and senior Fatah official Azzam al-Ahmad (left) attend a news conference as they announce a reconciliation agreement in Gaza, on April 23, 2014. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)
Head of the Hamas government Ismail Haniyeh (right) and senior Fatah official Azzam al-Ahmad (left) attend a news conference as they announce a reconciliation agreement in Gaza, on April 23, 2014. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

That honeymoon didn’t last long. Just days after they formed a unity government, fissures have emerged between Hamas and Fatah that show how long and grueling the road to reconciliation will be.

The famous cliché “the devil is in the details” has turned out to be as relevant as ever for implementing the Palestinian unity agreement.

The first crisis, as anticipated, concerns the salaries of PA and Hamas clerks in Gaza.

Since the Hamas takeover of the Strip in June 2007, close to 50,000 Palestinians, who used to work in PA government offices, received salaries from Ramallah, without going to work at all. Their positions were filled by almost 40,000 new clerks and members of the security forces, who for nearly seven years received their salaries from the Hamas government.

For the last two months, Gaza’s just-resigned Hamas PM Ismail Haniyeh’s government has been unable to pay its employees’ salaries, because of the organization’s fiscal crisis (due to, among other things, the closing of the tunnels between the Sinai Peninsula and Egypt).

The unity agreement between the two movements determined that a joint commission will evaluate the salaries of Hamas clerks, and will set them according to the same criteria — seniority and education, for example — that determine the salaries of Fatah government workers. But until the commission finishes its work, the 40,000 Hamas employees will not receive their salaries.

On Wednesday, when PA employees who live in Gaza arrived at the banks to receive their salaries, they found themselves facing Hamas workers who prevented them from the reaching the ATMs and tellers.

A scuffle broke out between the sides, and Hamas police forces were sent to the scene — and the police decided to keep both sides from the banks.

On Thursday, banks were closed in Gaza, ostensibly to reduce friction. In fact, Hamas is trying to pressure PA President Mahmoud Abbas to pay its workers immediately.

In the meantime, Hamas released an announcement Thursday night saying that Qatar has promised to solve the crisis and pay the Hamas workers’ salaries until the joint commission finishes its work.

The second crisis, also just as expected, has to do with Hamas’s political and military activities in the West Bank. Over the past few days, Hamas activists in Hebron have tried to organize mass rallies for Naksa Day, marking the defeat suffered during the 1967 Six-Day War.

But the PA security forces took the gatherings as a challenge. According to Hamas reports, some of its members were arrested in Hebron: In the last two days alone, five activists were arrested and three more detained for questioning. One of the detainees, according to the report, was released from the General Intelligence Service’s prison three days ago, and a day later was arrested by the Preventive Security Force.

In the end, the Hebron demonstrations did not take place.

Meanwhile in Gaza, Hamas security forces arrested a key Fatah operative who’d returned to the Strip through the Rafah crossing.

These incidents create the first small but meaningful cracks in Palestinian unity, and leave question marks about whether the reconciliation agreement can last.

And on the horizon hovers the biggest crisis of all — the presidential and parliamentary elections, the prime purpose for which the national unity government was established. Their date has yet to be set, but it is already clear that Israel will not allow elections in East Jerusalem with Hamas participation.

When this becomes overt, the two organizations are expected to oppose holding elections at all, leaving this government’s future even more uncertain.

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