GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Gaza Strip citizens and factions are keeping a wary eye on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who has threatened to take measures in October against Hamas.
On Sept. 27, Abbas said during his speech before the United Nations General Assembly that If Hamas continues to refuse reconciliation, “We would refuse to accept any responsibility [for Gaza] moving forward.”
This comes soon after Egypt's repeated attempts to mediate a reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah faltered again, and the factions resumed their mutual recriminations. Abbas and his Fatah party rule the West Bank territory from Ramallah, while Hamas administers the Gaza Strip. The reconciliation agreement they signed in October 2017 to form a unity government never panned out despite several attempts at resuscitation.
Contributing to the most recent failure were Hamas' efforts, also via Egypt, to sign a truce with Israel without including Fatah. Abbas and Fatah are adamantly against those efforts, claiming the PLO is the only party authorized to sign agreements with foreign countries. Abbas threatened Aug. 17 to stop transferring any money to the Gaza Strip should Hamas sign a truce with Israel. This very threat led the negotiations between Hamas and Fatah to falter once again, but Egypt has once again agreed to pick up the effort.
Hamas parliament members in Gaza met Sept. 26 to discuss “the end of President Mahmoud Abbas’ mandate.”
Ahmed Bahr, first deputy speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council, said at the beginning of the session, “Abbas, who is starving our people while seeking to disarm the resistance and coordinate security with Israel, does not represent the Palestinian people. He only represents himself.”
During the same session, parliament member Faraj al-Ghoul said Abbas “has been abusing power since the end of his term in January 2009,” and called on all Palestinian factions to draw up a comprehensive plan to address the president’s threats. (Abbas was elected to a four-year term that officially expired in 2009, but has remained in office.)
The Palestinian Authority (PA), headed by Abbas, imposed financial sanctions on the Gaza Strip at the beginning of March 2017, as it slashed salaries for the authority's staff there by 30% to 50% and deprived the territory of liquidity — moves that significantly contributed to the difficult economic situation plaguing all of Gaza’s residents, not only Hamas.
Abbas will be waiting for Hamas’ response to the Egyptian mediator regarding proposals to end Palestinian division. Chief among these proposals is Hamas handing responsibility for the Gaza Strip government to the PA, as well as turning over all the factions' arms.
Azzam al-Ahmad, a member of Fatah’s central committee, told Al-Monitor that Abbas gave Hamas until the first week of October to respond to Egypt's mediation. He said the measures to be taken against Hamas in the Gaza Strip will be disclosed in a timely manner, but he neither confirmed nor denied whether Abbas has received any response from Hamas via Egypt.
A source close to Abbas told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity that Hamas is delaying the reconciliation process and is still negative about the issue of the returning complete control of the Gaza Strip to the PA. The source stressed that the PLO Central Council will discuss several steps that could be taken during its October meeting, and that these will come as a surprise to the Hamas movement.
The measures, he said, have been under examination for months now by order of the president. Chief among these is halting all of the government’s expenditures to Gaza, which are estimated at $96 million per month in salaries and ministry operation expenses.
Yahya Moussa, a Hamas leader and deputy head of the movement’s parliamentary bloc, told Al-Monitor the Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip are meeting daily to discuss what measures Abbas might take against them.
Moussa said that the factions are against the sanctions that were formerly imposed and that might be imposed again on the Gaza Strip, and that the factions will announce their countermeasures when the time is right. Such measures include delegitimizing Abbas.
Moussa said Hamas' position, which they communicated to Qatari and Egyptian mediators during their last visits to Gaza on Sept. 14 and Sept. 22, respectively, is that sanctions must be lifted immediately before there are talks about empowering Abbas' government. He noted that Hamas had actually handed over control of its ministries and the Gaza Strip crossings in October and November of 2017, but that Ramallah is still neglecting the Gazan population.
On Sept. 24, the Lebanese Al-Mayadeen channel website quoted well-informed Palestinian sources as saying the Egyptian delegation that had visited two days earlier had only one option to offer: adopt Abbas’ vision regarding reconciliation. The Hamas leadership asked the delegation to pressure Abbas into refraining from taking any actions against the Gaza Strip.
After the Egyptian delegation left the Gaza Strip, tension escalated on the border with Israel as popular demonstrations turned into daily events and protesters resumed arson attacks using fire balloons.
Hani al-Thawabta, a member of the central committee of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, warned in an interview with Al-Monitor against Abbas imposing new sanctions. He said that not only would such measures target Hamas but also every citizen in the Gaza Strip.
Mustafa al-Sawaf, former editor-in-chief of the Felesteen newspaper and a political analyst, told Al-Monitor the Palestinian factions have several options to weigh in light of the potential new sanctions. As Moussa said, chief among these is delegitimizing Abbas and refraining from dealing with him as the Palestinian president.
He said the PA collects more than $120 million a month from the Gaza Strip in exchange for goods. He wondered, “Where do such funds and those deducted on a monthly basis from the salaries of Gaza government staff go?”
Palestinian citizens in the Gaza Strip have suffered greatly from the internal Palestinian division and the measures imposed by the PA in March 2017. A Sept. 24 report by the World Bank confirmed that the Israeli siege, the PA decision to reduce its funding to the Gaza Strip and the US aid cuts have contributed to an unemployment rate in Gaza that exceeds 50%, and that has reached a staggering 70% among its young people.
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