Tue. Dec 12 2017

Is Abbas ready to end his punishment of Gaza?

Sep 20 2017

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by Motasem A Dalloul

As the leader of the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement, Ismail Haniyeh, made his way back to the Gaza Strip after an 11-day trip to Cairo, during which he announced the dissolution of the administrative committee in Gaza and agreed to reconcile with Fatah, the residents of the territory waited for the punishing measures taken against them by Ramallah to be cancelled. They are still waiting.

Reconciliation, it seems, is not that easy. Life in Gaza has become intolerable due to the Israeli-led siege and the internal division between Hamas and Fatah, but this is not the first time that both sides have announced the end of the split and the turning of a new page on their relationship.

Riyadh, Damascus, Cairo and Yemen have all hosted talks between Hamas and Fatah, some of which ended with an agreement and the Palestinians cheered. On the ground, though, nothing changed.

The last time that the two movements announced their reconciliation was on 23 April, 2014. They met in Haniyeh’s house in Al-Shati Refugee Camp in Gaza and declared that they would form a National Unity Government headed by Fatah and including members close to Hamas. This transitional government would, it was claimed, prepare for new parliamentary, presidential and Palestine National Council elections within six months of its formation.

Six months later, the government — based in Ramallah — had not done anything about the elections and it was clear that it was neglecting the Gaza Strip. In the summer of 2014, Israel launched a major offensive on Gaza, killing more than 2,200 people and wounding 11,000 others, creating havoc in the enclave. The Gaza residents felt that the government did not do its jobduring and after the war. However, Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah did have a government reshuffle without consulting Hamas, Fatah’s supposed main partner.

Hamdallah, who visited Gaza in 2015 and met with Hamas officials, has always claimed that his government is unable to carry out its role in Gaza because Hamas is the de facto administration. In response, Hamas points out that it is holding on to the main ministerial positions in Gaza because the Ramallah government has never tried to take up its role and has refused to recognise the employees who were hired after their predecessors simply sat at home on full pay — as ordered by Fatah —when the division started in 2007. As a result, with Israel tightening the restrictions on the Gaza Strip, Hamas announced the formation of the aforementioned administrative committee earlier this year.

Fatah called this an obstacle to it taking up its role in Gaza and asked Hamas to dismantle the committee and enable the government to get to work. The real obstacle, though, was that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had told Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to choose between Israel and Hamas; he chose Israel.

After the announcement that the administrative committee in Gaza would be dissolved, Abbas hailed Hamas and called Haniyeh to tell him that he was pleased with the move and was satisfied with the atmosphere created by the Islamic movement taking this measure. A day later, senior Abbas advisor Nabil Shaath said that dissolving the committee was the first step towards implementing a larger agreement.

“We await the first steps on the ground,” the veteran official explained. “We want to see Hamdallah received by Hamas and the door to all the ministries open. That really could happen in the next 24 hours.” Shaath added that Abbas wants to cancel the punitive measures implemented by the Fatah-controlled PA against Gaza.

“When the president supported these economic measures [against Gaza],” reported the official PA news agency, “he said they will stop immediately that the self-rule governance of Hamas ends and the consensus government steps in. He [Abbas] did not put any other conditions whatsoever.”

Although I remain pessimistic, most Palestinian analysts and writers are optimistic about events. The Israeli media, which always predicts the responses of PA officials on any important issue that touches Ramallah’s relationship with Israel, is doubtful that an agreement will be reached.

According to Elior Levy in Ynet News, Hamas moved the ball into Abbas’s court by dissolving the committee. This, he said, means that Hamas is extending its hand in peace and doing everything it has been asked to do by the mediators in Cairo.

“This move embarrasses Abbas, who is now facing an important test,” explained Levy. “He must now cancel the sanctions and restore the situation in Gaza, which will cost him quite a lot of money.” He continues to have doubts about Abbas’s intentions.

Meanwhile, the Times of Israel noted that Abbas had spoken to the Hamas leader about the reconciliation and hailed his decision to dissolve the committee, but he remained silent regarding the cancellation of his punishment of the Palestinians in Gaza.

“Hamas’s hand is seemingly extended in peace,” concluded Levy, “but will Fatah accept the challenge and, albeit unwillingly, shake it?”

Is, in other words, Abbas ready to stop punishing the people in the besieged Gaza Strip? They — we — deserve to know.

Motasem A Dalloul

Motasem A Dalloul

Motasem Ahmed Dalloul is a staff writer at the Middle East Monitor. He is a specialist in the Middle East affairs.
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