President of the Palestinian Authority (PA) Mahmoud Abbas has told Hamas to hand over control of the Gaza Strip by the end of the month or “suffer the consequence.”.
Abbas’ comments came to light yesterday in a statement made by a PA presidency bureau official to Israel’s public broadcaster Kan. The comments came against the backdrop of another failed round of talks between Hamas and the PA in Cairo, according to the Jerusalem Post.
The Jerusalem Post added that “Abbas is reportedly threatening cessation of all funds to the Strip if Hamas refuses” the ultimatum.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused President Abbas of aggravating the situation in Gaza by withholding funds. In a press conference yesterday, Netanyahu claimed that “in the last year Abbas has made the situation in Gaza more difficult by choking off the flow of funds from the Palestinian Authority to Gaza.” Netanyahu continued to lambast the PA president, saying “Abbas has interfered in all UN attempts to ease the plight in Gaza. Many countries […] are condemning him for this, and rightly so,” Ynet reported.
Netanyahu’s comments will be seen as ironic in light of his failure to mention Israel’s choking of Gaza through the imposition of the siege. Since 2007 Israel has besieged the Gaza Strip by land, air and sea, restricting freedom of movement, trade and access to the sea. The siege has all but strangled the Strip’s once thriving economy, destroyed its agricultural sector and caused high unemployment.
The withholding of funds to which both Netanyahu and the PA official refer includes the PA’s cessation of prisoners’ and PA officials’ salaries. In April PA employees in Gaza discovered their salaries had been slashed by at least 30 per cent, with some employees saying their pay has been cut by as much as 70 per cent. In June a spokesman for the Palestinian Commission of Prisoners and ex-Prisoners’ Affairs, Hassan Abed Rabbo, said that the Palestinian Finance Ministry had halted the salaries of 277 Palestinian prisoners without giving a reason.
The PA’s withholding of salaries and funds has been interpreted as an effort to wrest control of Gaza from Hamas, which governs the coastal enclave. The PA has redoubled its efforts in light of negotiations for a Hamas-Israel ceasefire, which threaten to exclude the PA from the picture.
In July, the PA declared that any aid being sent to the besieged Strip must pass through “the legitimate Palestinian ministries” in Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank – the seat of the PA. Labour Minister Mamoun Abu Shahla said that: “There is only one government in Palestine […] It is the National Agreement Government which was accepted by all parties. It is the sole responsible for working in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.”
Tensions between Fatah, which dominates the PA, and Hamas have been high since the latter was elected to govern the Gaza Strip in 2006. Following the election, Fatah Chairman Abbas refused to step down. Violence broke out between the two factions and in 2007 the Palestinian unity government was declared split with Hamas taking over governance of Gaza and Fatah maintaining control of the West Bank. As yet the two parties have failed to reach a lasting reconciliation.