Can you help me understand Mahmoud Abbas’s politics toward the Gaza Strip?

Calling the politics between the PA and Hamas a “power struggle” is absurd, because neither has power in any meaningful way. The power resides with the Occupying Power.

Mahmoud Abbas has long colluded with Israel and Egypt to ensure that “the Palestinians in Gaza continue to suffer and starve.” Haaretz is now announcing that “Hamas and Palestinian President Abbas’ rival Mohammed Dahlan have reportedly agreed on a new way to run Gaza — which could loosen the blockade at Israel’s expense.”

And in another report: The extended cuts in Gaza’s electricity “follow a refusal by the Palestinian Authority to pay for electricity from Israel, as Egypt reportedly readies a diesel shipment to help power a Gazan power plant.”

Earlier, the Israeli press circulated rumors that Abbas is “mulling” over a plan to declare the Gaza Strip “a rebel district” soon.  Such a preposterous designation of the Gaza Strip – “the isolated enclave” is another media formulation – by the Palestinian Authority makes no sense, because that “district” is as surely under Israeli occupation as the West Bank is.   If he actually pronounces the Gaza Strip as such, Abbas will simply be transitioning from the realm of delusion to the realm of farce.

“Once again, it takes new ‘crisis’ for attention to turn to Gaza. And some important clarification is needed about Israel as Occupying Power. Contrary to what some disingenuously maintain, & others mistakenly believe, Israel’s so-called 2005 ‘disengagement’ did not end occupation. This is view of UN Security Council (R.1860), UN General Assembly (R.65/179), & the Office of the Prosecutor at the ICC (Nov. 2014). Thus, *irrespective* of internal Palestinian conflict, Israel has responsibilities & obligations under IHL as the Occupying Power.” – Ben White

In practical terms, the “rebellion” [read sumoud, read resistance] of the Gaza Strip is directed at its oppressor, Israel, and at the Palestinian Authority (PA) only in so far as it is colluding with Israel to abrogate Palestinian rights.  Calling the politics between the PA and Hamas a “power struggle” is absurd, because neither has power in any meaningful way.  The power resides with the Occupying Power.  [For more on the question of occupation read an excerpt here from Ben White’s e-Book The 2014 Gaza War: 21 Questions & Answers (2016).]  As it enters its eleventh year of blockade, the Gaza Strip, in the words of American political economist and scholar Sara Roy, is in a “state of humanitarian shock” where “need is everywhere.”

The greatest source of political tension between the Hamas government in Gaza and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank is the continued refusal of President Abbas, who controls the purse strings, to pay the salaries of Hamas government employees. I was consistently told that if Abbas wanted to win the support of Gaza’s people all he would have to do is pay the civil servants their salaries. Because he is unwilling to do so – he claims that the money would be funnelled to Hamas’s military wing – he bears a great deal of responsibility for Gaza’s suffering. Abbas’s refusal is all the more galling because he has been paying full salaries – generally between $500 and $1000 a month, a huge sum in Gaza today – to at least 55,000 civil servants in Gaza who worked for the PA before Hamas took control of the territory. These people are being paid not to work for the Hamas government. Paying their salaries costs the PA $45 million a month, money largely supplied by Saudi Arabia, the EU and the US. Paying people not to work has institutionalised yet another distortion in Gaza’s deeply impaired economy. However, Abbas recently cut these salaries by between 30 and 70 per cent to pressure the Hamas government into relinquishing control of Gaza. ‘Either Hamas gives us Gaza back,’ Abbas threatened, ‘or they will have to take full responsibility for its people.’ According to my colleague Brian Barber, currently in Gaza, ‘Abbas’s salary cuts have come like an earthquake.’
(If Israel were Smart)

If Abbas (and Israel) were smart, they would be helping Gaza’s young generation to get out from under the rubble, to live a normal life, but Abbas is too wedded to the political course mapped out for him by the disastrous, and now defunct, Oslo Accords.  So what’s going on in his ossified mind?  Here are some insights from Palestinian political analyst Hani Masri:

Some may ask: Why does Abu Mazin not head towards ending the inter-Palestinian split, thereby becoming more than the head of Fatah, the PA, the PLO, and some of the Palestinians, thereby turning into the leader of all Palestinians?

What has prevented him from doing so is that the PA he heads is hostage to the unfair commitments imposed on it. Moreover, the path towards national unity necessarily passes through a full and genuine political partnership. And this means that Hamas will become a major partner without whose participation decisions and policies cannot be made. For Hamas is not of the same size as the other factions whose existence has allowed Abu Mazin to remain at the head of the PA and the PLO without opposition or any participation in influencing his leadership. Moreover, Hamas is better organized than Fatah, which means that its participation could pave its way to assuming leadership.

And what prevents Abu Mazin from pursuing the path of unity as well is the fact that participation in decision-making would not be confined to Hamas. He would also have to share this with Fatah, because he would be in greater need for the movement once unity is achieved. Moreover, the value and participation of the other factions would grow, because they would be courted by the two major factions so as to win them over to their side. Furthermore, unity would elicit severe Israeli anger; and since Israel is the occupying state, it plays a major role that cannot be ignored in the Palestinian court. In addition, if Hamas and Islamic Jihad were to join the PLO without accepting the International Quartet’s preconditions, that would expose the PLO to American, and perhaps European and international, boycott. (One Question)

Meanwhile, in Washington: “Top Senate Democrats said they were closer to signing on to a Republican-backed bill that would slash aid to the Palestinian Authority if it did not stop subsidizing Palestinians jailed for attacks on Israel.”

Also see “AID” TO PALESTINIANS IN CONTEXT OF ISRAELI VIOLATIONS: Militarization of Palestinian Aid by Nora Lester Murad and Alaa Tartir.

____________________

Author: mypalestinianscrapbook

I am an activist for justice in Palestine, researcher and retired professor of English literature at Al-Quds University in the occupied West Bank, Palestine.  My father’s side of the family comes from the forcibly depopulated village of Lifta on the western outskirts of Jerusalem and my mother's family is from the depopulated village of Ijzim, Haifa.  

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