The two main Palestinian factions, Hamas and Fatah, are behind the internal Palestinian division but together they signed a mutual reconciliation agreement brokered by Egypt on 12 October last year. The Palestinians in Gaza celebrated the deal, which was announced as the end of the 10-year Israeli, Palestinian Authority and Egyptian siege.
As a goodwill gesture, Hamas dismantled its administrative committee, which had superseded the Palestinian government in the Gaza Strip run by the movement. The Palestinian Authority (PA) in Ramallah, dominated by Fatah, announced that it would take up its responsibilities in Gaza immediately and lift the punitive measures imposed against the enclave by its leader Mahmoud Abbas, which included electricity cuts, a public sector salary freeze and an end to sending medicines and approving referrals for medical treatment elsewhere.
Observers doubted that the deal would end the Palestinian division and the siege on Gaza; they also mistrusted Egypt as an honest broker, as the leadership in Cairo has viewed Hamas as an enemy for a long time. However, many of the political analysts refrained from doubting the PA and the Egyptian intentions. In time, though, almost every expert on Palestinian affairs became certain that what had happened was part of a bigger game. Some went as far as to say that it was part of Trump’s “Deal of the Century”.
Looking at the situation in the Gaza Strip three months down the line, the one certain thing is that the deal was like a bubble. It is no exaggeration to say that the territory is on the verge of collapse; indeed, that it has started to collapse. Healthcare, social welfare, the economy, education and all other areas of the government system are ready to announce that they are unable to offer daily provision for the people of Gaza as protest strikes start to take effect.
Thousands of public servants and their families in Gaza have had no income for months; thousands of poor families have no social benefits to fall back on; and thousands of workers’ families have no money because more than 80 per cent of the businesses and 90 per cent of factories in Gaza have already stopped production. According to economic analyst Mohamed Abu Jayyab, one reason for the economic downturn is that the PA is still collecting taxes but only to transfer the money out of Gaza.
On Tuesday, the spokesman for the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Gaza, Ashraf Al-Qiddra, announced the postponement of thousands of appointments for surgery, warning that they would be cancelled if Israel does not lift its sanctions on medicines, medical equipment and spare parts for vital machinery. The PA, he added, must also send urgently needed medical disposables and medicines to the hospitals and healthcare centres in Gaza. “Stock levels of many items on the essential drugs list are at zero in the Central Store,” he warned.
Meanwhile, the PA’s procrastination over paying the salaries of the public servants recruited by Hamas after the movement won the election in 2006, which the reconciliation deal stipulated should be paid by November, as well as its dithering about lifting its own sanctions on Gaza suggest that Ramallah is not serious about ending the suffering of fellow Palestinians in the enclave. “Even the PA employees in Gaza who are heavily in debt to the banks and have lost one-third of their salaries, are now classified among the poor,” explained Abu Jayyab.
The PA has decided to raise the price of oil entering the Gaza Strip from Egypt in order to collect more taxes for its treasury in the West Bank. Meanwhile, PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah has claimed that the authority paid $16 billion to Gaza when, in fact, it only paid half that amount, and collected $9.6bn in taxes over the siege period. That does not look like a government eager to fulfil its responsibilities and duty of care for Gaza’s residents.
The PA is supposed to have taken full responsibility for running all of the ministries in Gaza, control of which was handed over by Hamas when the deal was signed, but nothing has happened other than ministers and department heads visiting the offices for a photoshoot and going away again. Not even the administration costs have been paid by Ramallah. The excuse given by Fatah and the PA is that they only have control of 5 per cent of the offices in Gaza. The truth is that they are just not serious about reconciliation.
Ramallah may make pledges for the cameras — especially about the electricity supply in Gaza — but it doesn’t follow them up with action. It only sees Gaza as a potential source of income, raking in millions of shekels at the border posts, of which it also has control.
The broker of the reconciliation deal, Egypt, promised to denounce whichever side failed to fulfil its responsibilities under the agreement. It has failed to do this, primarily, one assumes, because it is its ally the Fatah-run PA which has reneged on the deal.
On top of all of this, it goes largely unreported that Gaza has been under almost daily Israeli air strikes and shelling since Trump’s decision about Jerusalem on 6 December. Three people have been killed, and dozens have been wounded, and the Palestinians now live in constant fear that another Israeli military offensive is on the way.
“Before they go to bed the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip hear one Israeli official threatening to launch a war against them and then they wake up to hear another saying that no wars against Gaza are expected in the foreseeable future,” explained social scientist Adel N’ima. “This has a disastrous effect on the psyche as it causes severe stress to the old and trauma to the young.”
Such psychological terror is, of course, what the air strikes, bombardments and propaganda are intended to induce. What is that if not state terrorism?
“The PA is only interesting in making money in Gaza, not in facilitating the life of Palestinians in Gaza,” insisted Abu Jayyab. He believes that the Ramallah authority led by Mahmoud Abbas is leading Gaza into a deep, dark tunnel. With PA procrastination and Israeli threats, the enclave is certainly heading into the unknown, so it is hard to disagree with him.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.