GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Palestinian Labor Minister Mamoun Abu Shahla told Al-Monitor that Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah informed donor countries that aid shall only be delivered to the Gaza Strip via the legitimate government.
“Hamdallah made this demand during his encounter with all of the donor countries’ ambassadors to the Palestinian territories whom he summoned to his Ramallah office a few days ago. He assured them that his government is the only government for Palestinians and that it is its task to make optimal investment and distribution of assistance to social segments,” he added.
Abu Shahla went on to say that “the government is keen not to turn the Palestinian political cause into a humanitarian one.”
Abu Shahla indicated that the Ramallah government meets 90% of the Gaza Strip's needs, thus spending a monthly amount of $95 million to provide Gaza with education, health services and power plant fuel, and pay the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) employees their salaries. This is not to mention other services. Nevertheless, it only obtains from the Gaza government a monthly sum of $7 million in taxes, Abu Shahla said.
“Foreign aid, be it financial aid, food assistance or medical aid, fulfills the remaining 10% of Gaza's needs,” he stated.
Some financial and in-kind aid — which countries close to the Hamas movement such as Qatar and Turkey provide to some of Hamas’ civil society organizations or charities to help the poor and orphans in the Gaza Strip — do not pass through the Ramallah-based government. This is because the movement has not relinquished control of the Gaza Strip to the Palestinian government as per the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation agreement signed in Cairo in October 2017. The reason behind it is that the Ramallah government refuses to pay employees — which Hamas appointed following the Palestinian division in 2007 — their salaries, as per the same agreement.
Although there are no Palestinian statistics on how much the Gaza Strip has obtained in direct foreign aid that did not pass through the Ramallah government, Qatar's Gaza Reconstruction Committee reported June 17 that Qatar provided the Gaza Strip with $15 million worth of financial, food and medical assistance between February and June.
Turkey's consul to Jerusalem, Mustafa Sarnic, told the press in May 2015 while at his residence in Jerusalem that “Turkey provided the Gaza Strip with $369 million worth of aid in the past 10 years.”
Hamdallah’s demand coincides with UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process Nickolay Mladenov's efforts deployed to bring about a truce between Hamas and Israel in exchange for an economic recovery in the Gaza Strip. Miladinov had visited the Gaza Strip and Israel July 26 back and forth and met with Israeli officials and Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh to calm down the situation.
The London-based Asharq al-Awsat newspaper wrote July 29 that the visits are designed to establish "a cease-fire that would last for years, not for just a limited time [between Israel and Hamas]. This is by offering different solutions, such as executing development projects, and other ways to enhance the worsening economic situation in the Gaza Strip.
In an August 3 tweet, Simon Arann, a political correspondent for Makan, quoted Israeli Channel 2 as saying that “Israeli figures arrived in Qatar lately to raise funds for a truce agreement between Israel and the Gaza Strip.”
Fatah spokesman Osama al-Qawasmi warned against Hamas concluding a truce agreement with Israel in exchange for humanitarian assistance. He considered the deal to be “another coup against the people and homeland,” the media reported Aug. 4.
Atef Adwan, head of the Palestinian Legislative Council Economy Committee and a Hamas leader, perceived Hamdallah's demand to be treason.
Adwan told Al-Monitor, “The sole objective behind Hamdallah's demand is to further tighten the blockade on Gaza and prevent development projects from being implemented there. Most of the assistance that gets into Gaza consists of either medical aid or food assistance to the poor. This being said, it is clear that what this government desires is to suffocate Gaza and starve its people.”
He further said, “President [Mahmoud] Abbas is the one who turned the Palestinian cause into a humanitarian cause with the sanctions he has imposed on the Gaza Strip, leading to a major humanitarian disaster among its residents.”
Abbas imposed sanctions on the Gaza Strip in April 2017 in response to Hamas establishing an administrative committee to manage the Gaza Strip affairs. Most importantly among these is deducting 30-50% from the payrolls of the PA employees in Gaza, and ordering early and forced retirement for more than 6,000 of the Gaza Strip civil servants and about 26,000 military staff.
Mohsen Abu Ramadan, a member of the Palestinian Non-Governmental Organizations Network and economic analyst, told Al-Monitor that the consensus government and PA “dread that international economic interference — in the form of development projects, financial aid or food assistance to achieve economic recovery in Gaza — serves as a price for a political deal between Hamas and Israel away from the PA.”
He went on to say that “any Israeli-Hamas political or economic agreement away from the PA would escalate the Palestinian divide into a separation between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.”
Adwan indicated that “Hamas underlined its opposition to [Washington's awaited] 'deal of the century,' and it is impossible for the movement to consent to any political concessions in exchange for economic projects or food aid to Gaza.” He continued, “Yet, in case the government fears such a thing, it should then go to Gaza and take charge of the situation there.”
Abu Ramadan does not believe the Hamdallah demand will have an important effect on any Israeli-Hamas truce. This is because in case Israel is OK with setting up international development projects and pumping a great deal of aid in the Gaza Strip in an attempt to redress the economic situation, then these things will happen regardless of the government’s stance.