Palestinian issue turning to financial confrontation

There is nothing more effective than hunger in bending people’s convictions and traditional allegiances and in drawing them towards any safety loophole.
Sunday 17/02/2019
Tough days. A Palestinian employee receives her salary in southern Gaza, last November. (Reuters)
Tough days. A Palestinian employee receives her salary in southern Gaza, last November. (Reuters)

The contours of an eyebrow-raising and odd paradox came to light recently in the Palestinian territories.

As more exclusionary measures were taken by Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas against Fatah and families of martyrs in Gaza, denying thousands of Palestinians monthly stipends and deepening the disastrous socio-economic conditions in the Gaza Strip, similar reprisal measures were being taken by the United States against the Palestinian Authority itself.

Among those measures is barring large US financial institutions from conducting business with the Palestinian Authority, which puts this authority in jeopardy.

Amid this financial Catch-22, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s government is increasing pressure on Abbas to stop disbursing salaries of prisoners and the families of martyrs when the Netanyahu government is acting as the middleman in distributing funds to Hamas survivors in the Gaza Strip.

The whole comedy has become a strange riddle that sparked heated discussions about its hidden secrets, forcing Hamas to announce its refusal to accept the final installment of payments transferred from Tel Aviv.

What’s going on in this business of detaining the rightful stipends of the martyrs’ families and government employees in Gaza and what are the positions of parties concerned?

The one who is gradually and brutally implementing salary cuts is being accused — by the same people he receives orders from and obeys — of doing just the opposite. Netanyahu is threatening to deduct sums allocated to prisoners and the families of martyrs from customs duties owed to the Palestinians by the Israel Tax Authority. Abbas quickly asserted that the Palestinians would not accept any customs payments if they were missing a single penny.

In a visit to Saudi Arabia, which began February 11, Abbas was said to try to convince Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud to intervene with the Trump administration.

Abbas is focusing on two points. First, the Palestinian Authority’s policies, both the social and security ones, are compatible with the United States’ fundamental intentions in its conflict with the PA, even if any objection remains based on the United States’ unilateral decisions on Jerusalem.

As to Abbas’s declared position regarding the “Deal of the Century,” he shouldn’t be blamed for it for the simple reason that the American side did not reveal its famous deal and has yet to make proposals. The issue is nothing but a subject of controversy. No Arab or Palestinian party should be held accountable for their position on the issue, which remains unclear.

The second point in the bid to Riyadh regards the Palestinian Authority’s financial situation in case the problem with the Netanyahu government, which is escalating the confrontation with the PA for electoral reasons, gets worst.

Netanyahu’s Likud party is seeking to strengthen its position ahead of this April’s elections. If Netanyahu diverts part of the Palestinian funds, the PA is at risk of collapsing and the situation could get out of hand.

Pacification is an important element in Palestinian internal affairs, whether in the West Bank or in Gaza, and depends on the PA’s financial ability to appease some segment of its society and Palestinian figures, as well as to pay for the security systems and forces at both places.

For the PA to avoid collapsing if Netanyahu goes too far in severing Palestinian funds, the expected element of relief should be Saudi Arabia, whether in terms of providing the needed funds and ensuring their delivery or by interjecting with the Trump administration to rein in Netanyahu.

In the context of this conflict of interests, the security component is receding in favour of money considerations as to influencing the Palestinian situation and its potential outcomes.

Some Palestinians did pay attention to the goals behind the cessation of Gazan salaries. The motives behind this matter are not merely conniving and exclusionary. Their enormous social effects strike at the heart of Palestinians’ lives in an already stricken region and would cause structural, psychological and political changes and alter equations and loyalties and people’s views of their leaders.

There is nothing more effective than hunger in bending people’s convictions and traditional allegiances and in drawing them towards any safety loophole.

Many are ruling out that the harsh measures affecting thousands of families in the Gaza Strip stem from authoritarian or regionalist tendencies without regard to or awareness of the goals and outcomes sought by those taking such measures.

In such a context, the Palestinian situation stagnates. New setbacks occur every day, leading to a marked deterioration in politics, society, security, with slander and smearing rife in media. The most basic hopes of returning to a semblance of regularity and organisation in political affairs are receding.

If such a return is not possible on ideological bases, let it at least be on rational ones worthy of the traditions of modern Palestinian militancy and dismissive of any attempt to separate the West Bank and Gaza.