Why Abbas Refuses to Ease Sanctions on Gaza
by Yoni Ben Menachem / JNS.org
JNS.org – The two million Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip are paying the price for the political rivalry between Fatah and Hamas.
This week, the Israeli government’s Security Cabinet decided not to make any further humanitarian concessions to Gaza as long as Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas stands firm in his refusal to remove the sanctions that he imposed on Gaza a year ago.
The PLO’s Action Committee set up a higher council to discuss the issue of Gaza. This council met on June 9 and recommended the payment of 50 percent of the salaries of Palestinian Authority (PA) clerks in the Gaza Strip before Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim celebration marking the end of Ramadan. Let’s see if this actually happens.
The Al-Hayat newspaper reported on June 12 that, according to a senior Fatah official, after Eid al-Fitr the movement will launch a reconciliation process with Hamas based on arranging general elections, establishing a unity government, and following the principles of “one law, one security, and one weapon.”
None of the residents of the territories place much faith in this report. Egypt, which was leading the conciliation process, had to bring it to a halt following a request from Fatah, which announced that it would not attend the meetings with Hamas representatives in Cairo.
Not only did Abbas refuse to remove the sanctions that he had imposed on Gaza, but he also refused to discuss allowing humanitarian concessions.
In March 2018, US special envoy Jason Greenblatt organized a conference at the White House to examine solutions for easing the situation in Gaza. Abbas turned down his invitation to the conference on the grounds that the Trump administration would try to exploit the situation to cut off the Gaza Strip from the West Bank.
He also rejected an initiative by Nikolai Mladenov, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, for a three-way meeting between the Palestinian Authority, Israel, and Egypt to assess ways to ease the crisis.
Why is Abbas refusing to make conditions easier?
- On the recommendation of his associate Gen. Majid Faraj, the head of general intelligence services in the West Bank, Abbas has been trying for a long time to stir up the residents of Gaza to revolt against Hamas in the style of the Arab Spring. However, he failed, and Hamas has succeeding in turning the anger of the masses towards Abbas. On June 10, there was a large demonstration in the center of Ramallah against the sanctions that Abbas imposed on the Gaza Strip. In this regard, Gaza’s suffering is now threatening the stability of Abbas’ rule.
- Abbas is a dictator who is not interested in political cooperation with Hamas or integrating it into the political decision-making framework. He does not trust Hamas and is concerned that its true intention is to bring down his rule in the West Bank and take control of it, as it did in Gaza in 2007.
- Abbas wants to isolate the Gaza Strip and rid himself of the burden of it until the situation there explodes and it falls like a ripe fruit into his hands. He believes that any humanitarian aid to Gaza strengthens Hamas’ rule and does not serve his political interests.
In effect, the official address for the Palestinians is the PLO, headed by Abbas. Any international aid to the Gaza Strip has to pass through the PA, especially in light of the fact that Hamas is considered a terror organization by the European Quartet.
Abbas controls international aid and also the payment of salaries to tens of thousands of PA clerical workers in the Gaza Strip. He is trying to dictate conditions for reconciliation to Hamas, especially the demand that it surrender its arms to the Palestinian Authority. He knows that there is no chance that Hamas will agree to this and this serves his purpose of torpedoing the reconciliation initiative and waiting for the collapse of the Hamas regime in the Gaza Strip as a result of the serious economic crisis.
Three players are currently acting to prevent an explosion in the Gaza Strip: Norway on behalf of the European Union, Mladenov for the United Nations, and Egypt.
Until now, they have not managed to create any agreed-upon formula to offer Hamas and the Palestinian Authority regarding humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip. Therefore, the atmosphere in Gaza remains very harsh and it is possible that after Eid al-Fitr the residents of Gaza will start going out into the streets again to demonstrate.
Yoni Ben Menachem, a veteran Arab affairs and diplomatic commentator for Israel radio and television, is a senior Middle East analyst for the Jerusalem Center. He served as director general and chief editor of the Israel Broadcasting Authority. This article was originally published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.