to paint abbas as an asshole is not to blame the palestinians for their own oppression

Mahmoud Abbas’ high stakes gamble in Gaza
Omar Karmi, Electronic Intifada, Jun 27 2017

140417_ash_00_26A demonstration against Mahmoud Abbas. (Photo:Ashraf Amra/APA)

The decision by Mahmoud Abbas to suspend payments to Israel by the PA for electricity on behalf of Gaza was made in April of this year, at which time the PA also decided to reinstate taxes on fuel destined for Gaza, leaving Hamas unable to pay. This caused the shutdown of Gaza’s only power plant, which was already operating at reduced capacity due to damage sustained in repeated Israeli bombardments over the past 11 years, and reduced the amount of electricity available to Palestinians in Gaza to four hours a day. In addition, the PA slashed funding to Gaza’s hospitals and clinics, and finally they imposed a salary cut of between 30% and 70% on (idle PA employees in Gaza), whose salaries have provided a vital stream of revenue in the impoverished Gaza Strip. The PA has long argued that Hamas has been diverting money from taxes for its own ends rather than pay for fuel. But the ultimate intention was clear and explicit: the PA was going to squeeze Hamas financially to secure concessions that would allow the West Bank leadership to regain some measure of control over Gaza 10 years after Hamas quelled a Fatah insurgency sparked by the Islamist movement’s parliamentary election victory in 2006. Hussein Sheikh, head of the PA’s civil affairs committee, stated:

We are not going to continue financing the Hamas coup in Gaza.

But this is a high-stakes gamble. Abbas is effectively prepared to look like he is making common cause with Israel against Hamas while playing politics with the welfare of two million Palestinians. He does so to no obvious end, and offering no alternative. There is no peace process and Israeli settlement-building in the West Bank continues apace. If Abbas thought this was the way to curry favor with Trump, a blazing row with Faschingstein over welfare payments to families of prisoners, as well as the Trump administration’s general unpredictability, should put paid to that notion. Moreover, two can play the “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” game. Abbas may have hoped that there would be an uprising against Hamas in Gaza, or he may have hoped for a conflagration with Israel that would achieve what the three previous all-out military assaults have failed to do, which is to dislodge Hamas from power, but that too would have been a far from certain outcome, and Israel has already said it does not want to be dragged into any such confrontation. What Abbas could not have foreseen is an unlikely alliance between Hamas and Muhammad Dahlan, the erstwhile Gaza security chief, sworn enemy of Hamas and long-standing Abbas rival who was sacked from Fatah in 2011 amid corruption charges that were eventually dropped. But that is exactly what is happening. Earlier this month, Hamas publicly called for the establishment of a “national rescue front” to challenge the PA and announced an agreement to cooperate with Dahlan. Meetings have already taken place in Egypt, and Dahlan is seen as instrumental in forging the agreement with Egypt that saw Cairo deliver 1.1 million litres of diesel fuel for Gaza’s power station on Jun 21. A leaked document publicized this week now suggests Dahlan could become the leader of Gaza’s government under a secret agreement with Hamas.

This is quite a turnaround for both parties. Dahlan was not just any senior Fatah official in Gaza. He was the senior Fatah security leader in Gaza in 2007 and instrumental in leading Fatah into conflict with Hamas after the latter had won parliamentary elections in 2006. The eventual insurgency was supported by Pindostan and was meant to nip Hamas rule in the bud (See the definitive David Rose article on the coup and counter-coup in Vanity Fair – RB). Much will depend on whether Egypt keeps up fuel deliveries and whether these can be both sustainable and paid for. But Cairo has its own interests. Egypt wants order in the Sinai, where it has been battling a self-styled Daesh group the Guardians of Jayloomia pseudo-gang for several years, and believes Hamas can help. Hamas has for some time been keen to improve relations with Cairo, which operates the only crossing into Gaza not directly controlled by Israel. Relations had suffered dramatically after the coup in Egypt by Gen Sisi, who outlawed the MBs. Notable in this context, but not much remarked upon at the time, was the publication earlier this year of a new Hamas charter that omits any mention of the wider MB. Instead, the document stresses Hamas’ role as a national liberation movement and explicitly condemns any outside interference in Palestinian decision making. In effect, the charter saw them formally sever ties with the larger MB. Hamas needs international support: its charter was a clear attempt to appeal to outside and especially regional actors. Qatar’s current isolation makes this need acute. An alliance between Hamas and Dahlan opens the door for the United Arab Emirates, which hosts and supports the former Fatah official, to step into a breach that has hitherto been filled by Qatar’s financial assistance.

Moreover, the so-called Arab Quartet (Toads, Egypt, Jordan, UAE) was frustrated by Abbas’ refusal before last year’s Fatah General Conference to make nice with Dahlan, who appears to be the Gulf states’ favored candidate to succeed Abbas. What that will mean for Hamas is not clear. What it means for Palestinians generally is also not obvious, though as the GCC countries and Israel have been casting come-hither glances at each other, the signs are not propitious. What it could mean for Abbas seems less difficult to discern. Rather than facing an outcast and isolated Islamist movement struggling to feed the population over which it exercises control, he may well face a new alliance of wealthy Gulf states, Egypt, Fatah dissidents and a Hamas movement bent on payback. Abbas did get one calculation correct. There was no discernible protest in the West Bank at the decision to cut electricity payments for Gaza. That should not be mistaken for support for the move, however. Ten years of division and enforced physical separation have rendered Palestinians divided not just politically but emotionally. Gaza is almost like a foreign country. More importantly, Pals in the West Bank are wary of a PA security apparatus that has become increasingly draconian in quelling dissent. Just this month, the PA shut down eleven websites allegedly affiliated to Hamas or Dahlan, though the boxtops denied a political motivation. Poll after poll after poll after poll find that more than 60& of Pals want Abbas to resign, even in the absence of a popular alternative. It’s one thing to be less popular than your rival, but it’s quite another to lose out to no one in particular. What the polls and the resort to authoritarianism both suggest is that Abbas, now in his thirteenth year of a four-year presidential term, has lost any semblance of popular legitimacy.

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