Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan on Sunday suggested barring Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas from returning to the West Bank when he next travels abroad, claiming the PA leader was “one of the main instigators of violence on the southern border” and contributed nothing to the diplomatic process.
Abbas, Erdan told Israel Radio, was responsible for the ongoing turmoil on the Israel-Gaza border through his ongoing economic pressure on Hamas as he tries to break the terror group’s grip over the enclave.
“The one really responsible behind the scenes for all that is happening is Abu Mazen,” he said, using Abbas’s nickname. “He is the one to move inspectors out of the Rafah Crossing, he is the one sanctioning Hamas in order to pressure Hamas — pressure that is bleeding over to us.”
The Likud minister said the government should consider taking action against Abbas in the coming months as his policy is “undeniably to foment unrest and incite against Israel, whether directly or through sanctions on Hamas.”
“Maybe we should go as far as to consider one of the next times Abu Mazen leaves not to allow him to come back, because today he makes no contribution to the diplomatic process. He’s only doing damage with his attitude toward Hamas,” he said.
Abbas has engaged in multiple measures against Gaza to squeeze its Islamist rulers.
His PA has for years withheld transfers of tax money to Gaza, while also trying to clamp down on fuel supplies and carrying out arrests, as part of a campaign to pressure the Hamas terror group into giving up control of Gaza.
Last week, the PA announced it would withdraw from the Rafah border crossing with Egypt as another sign of a rift with Hamas after a reconciliation agreement fell apart.
Senior officials close to Abbas say he is looking for other measures to punish Hamas.
Among these could be removing staff from the crossings between Israel and Gaza — making it hard for the Jewish state to allow anything into the territory without dealing directly with Hamas.
It could also include cutting salaries to families of Hamas prisoners or rescinding Palestinian passports for Hamas employees.
The moves raise concerns of more suffering for Gaza’s 2 million residents, already under an Israeli-Egyptian blockade to block the smuggling of weapons into the Strip and facing severe electricity shortages, while a cornered Hamas could renew violence against Israel.
Analysts say the measures will also widen the gap between Hamas-run Gaza and the West Bank, where Abbas’s Fatah faction dominates the Palestinian Authority.
“Very important decisions against Hamas are being discussed,” a senior Palestinian official said on condition of anonymity.
The official said the PA spent around $100 million per month in Gaza, including for electricity subsidies, and was looking to cut back significantly. “Those that want to rule Gaza must bear the responsibility of governing it,” the official said.
Hamas and Abbas’s secular Fatah party have been at loggerheads since the terror group seized control of Gaza from Abbas’s forces in a near-civil war in 2007.
Hamas, which is committed to the destruction of Israel, has since fought three bloody wars with the Jewish state and fears of a fourth remain.
Multiple reconciliation attempts between the Palestinian factions have failed but Egypt thought it had made a breakthrough in late 2017 when the two sides agreed to eventually share power. As part of that agreement, Hamas withdrew from border crossings between Gaza and Egypt and Israel, allowing the Palestinian Authority to return and the Egyptian border to be reopened regularly.
The reconciliation agreement has since collapsed in acrimony.
Israeli military officials are said to oppose moves to cut aid to the Strip, fearing built-up pressure could turn against it.
Senior Egyptian officials were quoted in a report Thursday in the Qatari al-Araby al-Jadid newspaper as saying that the Israeli defense establishment “is concerned that squeezing the Gaza Strip will turn the attention of the Palestinian factions toward” Israel.
A series of protests along the Gaza border calmed in recent months after Hamas and Israel struck an agreement that saw Qatari aid allowed into the territory.
Last week, it was reported that Israel had blocked a third tranche of Qatari funding, after a brief bout of violence that saw an explosive device and a rocket launched into Israel and retaliatory airstrikes.
Violence flared again on Saturday as a rocket was shot into Israel, a day after a Palestinian woman was killed by Israeli fire during border riots. Israel carried out retaliatory airstrikes on Hamas targets late Saturday night.
AFP contributed to this report.