Abbas faces setbacks in bid to regain control of Gaza

The Qatari aid via Israel and the Egyptian mediation efforts are seen as weakening Abbas’s hands against Hamas.
Sunday 14/10/2018
A tanker delivers fuel at the Gaza power plant in Nuseirat in the central Gaza Strip, on October 9.  (AFP)
Small respite. A tanker delivers fuel at the Gaza power plant in Nuseirat in the central Gaza Strip, on October 9. (AFP)

LONDON - Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is facing several setbacks as he tries to regain control of the Gaza Strip, which has been under the authority of the Islamist movement Hamas since 2007.

The latest mediation efforts by Egypt to broker a reconciliation deal between Hamas and Fatah, the party Abbas leads, failed but Cairo has not given up urging the Palestinian leader to accept a compromise. Abbas said he would not accept any agreement that did not include the disarmament of Hamas, a condition that has been rejected by the militant group.

The Egyptians are working to ensure a long-term ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, an agreement rejected by Abbas because it bypasses his authority. Nevertheless, Egyptian intelligence chief Abbas Kamel will reportedly be going to Israel for talks on the deal. Kamel is expected to meet with Abbas to attempt to convince the Palestinian leader not to seek to spoil any Hamas-Israel deal.

To pressure Hamas, Abbas has imposed economic measures against Gaza, including cutting salaries of thousands of former government employees as well as fuel subsidies to pay for electricity. The measures have worsened the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza, which is subject to an Israeli-Egyptian blockade.

Abbas maintains that any bid to ease the humanitarian suffering in Gaza must be agreed via his authority. He accused the United States of seeking to divide the occupied territories to impose its peace plan for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

“The US is trying to use the humanitarian situation in Gaza as a tool to implement its plan,” Mohammed Ishtayeh, a top Palestinian official, told the Associated Press (AP). “We say that Gaza is an integral part of the Palestinian lands and solving the problems of Gaza should be in the context of a broad political framework.”

Two unidentified senior Palestinian officials told the AP that Abbas is working to ensure that an Israel-Hamas ceasefire would not materialise. Abbas is keen, the officials added, on stopping large infrastructure projects from being carried out in Gaza.

Although Israel maintains a blockade on Gaza, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu accused Abbas of “choking” Gaza to fuel Palestinian anger against Israel.

“Abu Mazen (Abbas) is strangling them economically and they lash out at Israel,” Netanyahu said at a news conference in Jerusalem.

Scores of Palestinian protesters have been killed by Israeli fire near the Gaza border. Israel has accused Hamas of encouraging Palestinians to breach the Israeli border.

Abbas was infuriated when Qatar, under a UN-brokered deal, delivered fuel to Gaza via Israel. The Palestinian Authority said making deals with Hamas amounts to a recognition of the group’s control over Gaza.

“Any international financial aid to the Gaza Strip should be through, or with the coordination of, the Palestinian government,” said a spokesman for Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah. This is “to preserve Palestinian unity” and to stop any plans to separate Gaza from the West Bank, the spokesman added.

Senior Fatah official Azzam al-Ahmad said there would be retaliatory measures if the fuel deliveries continued to Gaza. However, Hamas, Israel, the United States and the United Nations have all welcomed the move.

“The Qatari fuel to the Gaza Strip’s power plant today is aimed at partially improving electricity (supply) in Gaza,” Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem told Agence France-Presse.

Qatar “was trying to help” prevent a Gaza flare-up, Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz told Reuters.

On Twitter, US Middle East Envoy Jason Greenblatt said: “The US appreciates the efforts of the UN, Egypt, Qatar and Israel to alleviate the humanitarian situation in Gaza and efforts to achieve the goal of an enduring ceasefire.”

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said: “The secretary-general expresses his deep appreciation to the government of Qatar for its $60 million contribution, which made this delivery possible and will allow its continuation for the coming months.”

Qatar, which supports Hamas, said its aid was “at the request of donor states in the United Nations to prevent an escalation of the existing humanitarian disaster.” A day later, Qatar pledged a separate aid package of $150 million for Gaza, via the UN Development Programme.

The Qatari aid via Israel and the Egyptian mediation efforts are seen as weakening Abbas’s hands against Hamas.

“Abbas believes that if he keeps the Gaza closure tight, it will make Hamas accept his reconciliation plan, which would give the Abbas government full control or the people in Gaza will launch a revolution against Hamas,” Palestinian political analyst Hani al-Masri, told Reuters.

“This is making it easy for others to bypass the Palestinian Authority… They are trying to give them (Gazans) a sedative, sometimes through Egypt and this time through Israel.”