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Gaza between Abbas’s escalation and Trump’s conditions

Image of US President Donald Trump in Washington, US on April 25, 2017 [Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency]
US President Donald Trump in Washington, US on 24 April 2017 [Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency]

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has continued his threats and measures against the Gaza Strip leading up to his meeting with US President Donald Trump, although Trump hasn’t made him any promises to resume negotiations with Israel. Abbas seems to be continuing to issue threats at a time when the settlement negotiations are facing a dead end making a two-state solution impossible until it is resolved.

American and Israeli pressures

Trump hasn’t made any promises to the PA regarding a political settlement. He has actually given clear signs that he will support whatever agreement the Israeli and Palestinian sides reach, abandoning support for the two-state solution in doing so.

The new American president also hasn’t committed to pressuring Israel to stop settlement activity, which is an issue Israel refuses to make real concessions on so that pending negotiations can continue. On the contrary, Netanyahu has recently demanded, in recent statements, that the PA stop allocating funds to martyrs, the wounded and prisoners before resuming any negotiations. This is an attempt to throw a wrench in the works of any expected negotiations.

Image of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on 23 April 2017 [Palestinian Presidency / Handout/Anadolu Agency]

Image of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on 23 April 2017 [Palestinian Presidency / Handout/Anadolu Agency]

Netanyahu has stipulated the launch of what he calls regional peace with the Arabs by means of normalising relations with them while at the same time launching negotiations with the Palestinians, who he has demanded recognise the Jewishness of the state.

All of this indicated a lack of seriousness on Israel’s part and an attempt to exploit the weak Arab position in order to dictate conditions for future negotiations, especially in light of the Trump administration which is completely biased in favour of the enemy.

As for Trump, who promised to move the US embassy to Jerusalem during his presidential campaign, Palestinian fears have grown after news was leaked that Washington presented ten demands to Abbas’ advisors in Ramallah.

The most important demand was for the PA to agree to resume negotiations with Israel without any preconditions and agreeing to the participation of “moderate” Arab countries in “regional peace” negotiations. The demands also included ceasing financial transfers from the PA to families of prisoners, wounded individuals and martyrs in exchange for promising Ramallah to stop its efforts to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Abbas in a rush

It is within this context that we can understand Abbas’s threats against the Gaza Strip, reducing the salaries of Fatah employees in Gaza, beginning to cut off the fuel supply to the Gaza Strip needed to operate the power plant and his continued imposition of tax on the Gaza Strip, thus doubling the price of electricity which is already suffering from a financial crisis due to the siege imposed on it.

Abbas is trying to offer Trump a token of welcome before visiting the White House and is trying to show his resolve, not only in dealing with a movement that distracts from the “division” against his authority, but also attempting to destabilise the rule of a movement posing a threat to the Israeli enemy and whose military brigades are classified as terrorists.

However, the measures to reduce salaries are a double-edged sword for the PA, as its crackdown on its Fatah employees in Gaza harms the PA president’s position and works in Hamas’s favour in the short run. This measure has led to protests and resignations amongst Fatah leaders in a manner that reinforces and strengthens Hamas’s position and serves Abbas’ rival, Muhammad Dahlan, who is striving for the presidency.

Read:  Thousands gather in Gaza as protests continue against PA salary cuts

Abbas has made great efforts to weaken Dahlan in the West Bank and Gaza, and he recently succeeded in doing so during the last Fatah conference. However, this measure risks him losing the support of Fatah members and allows Dahlan to reassume his status, especially in Gaza.

There is no doubt that there are tougher demands that the Israelis want from the Palestinian president that would affect the popularity of Hamas, but not to the extent of pushing the people in Gaza to direct their discontent at Israel, thus harming the state of non-peace and no war in Gaza. Hence, Abbas is making a risk with unknown consequences and puts the issue of reconciliation behind it, except matters related to the presidential elections and PA elections, without the PNC elections.

If even Abbas manages to throw the problem of Hamas officials in the lap of the donor and Gulf states, he still wouldn’t be able to shake off the issue of his staff’s salaries in the same manner. In addition to this, his threats to abandon Gaza will not be accepted by Israel because it realises that this may backfire on it.

Hamas fends off attacks

Despite all of this, it doesn’t seem that Abbas will receive American approval. He also does not have Arab support, neither in confronting Hamas nor even Dahlan, and this has pushed him to rethink his steps and threats because they may backfire on him.

Read: Hamas spells out conditions to sit with Fatah over running Gaza

In the face of this, Hamas in Gaza has involved the factions to face the problem. The factions made one demand to restore the situation to the way it was, in light of the fact that the electricity issue continues to cast its shadow on the people of Gaza. This is unless Ramallah cancels the tax that doubles the prices of the fuel needed to operate the only power plant in Gaza.

Hamas in Gaza will be hit hard by the current crisis and by any future crises created by the PA, but it still possesses a popular base enabling it to persevere in the face of these challenges. This is unless a large-scale war is waged against in with the participation of Arab countries.

Organising the Palestinian conflict

This conflict is the visible tip of the iceberg between the PA and Hamas, as the PA wants complete control over Gaza and the disarmament of the resistance in response to Israel’s demands. It is using Hamas’ decision to re-form the Gaza Administrative Committee, which provides services to the Gaza Strip in the absence of the Ramallah government, as an excuse for this.

Therefore, there is no end on the horizon to the renewed crisis in various forms between the two parties, except through dialogue and reaching an agreement to manage the fragmented Palestinian situation in a framework that preserves the position of the resistance and organises the Palestinian political dispute.

Will the Ramallah authority accept this, or will it continue its policies that ultimately serve the interests of the occupation? This is difficult to be seen in the upcoming period.

First published in Arabic by Arabi21, 26 April 2017.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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