Israeli, Fatah and Palestinian Authority officials have exchanged verbal blows over Qatar’s efforts to ease the crises in the Gaza Strip by paying $15m for the salaries of civil servants. Some Israeli officials claim that this is a boost for the “terrorist” organisation, Hamas, which is the de facto government of the coastal enclave, while Fatah and the PA claim that it reinforces the internal Palestinian division.
Almost all of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet colleagues agreed to allow the cash to be transferred to Gaza. Netanyahu defended this move, saying it was necessary to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe in the besieged territory. Most senior military officials in Israel concurred even though far-right Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman apparently rejected it, Education Minister Naftali Bennet told Channel 20. According to Haaretz, Netanyahu defied those who objected to the move, saying that he knew how to bear the cost.
“I hear calls for a war from people who have never been involved in a battle,” said Yoav Galant MK in response to Lieberman’s objections to the money transfer. “Do we need to expose our soldiers to danger in order to achieve some goals? What is wrong with achieving such goals through avoiding war for a long time? All other choices must be exploited.”
“When Israel needs to go into battle in Gaza,” added Yoav Kish MK, “it would want to destroy Hamas. The question is: What will happen next? Who will control the Gaza Strip and who will take care of the civilians?” This was echoed by retired Major General Amos Gilad, the director of the Political-Military Affairs Bureau at the Ministry of Defence. “It is easy to say let’s oust Hamas,” he told Army Radio, “but who will assume responsibility for Gaza? How long will we stay there? War is not the solution.”
Kish, however, believes that another offensive against Hamas is just a matter of time. “It is clear that we are heading towards it,” he insisted. “The issue of how to deal with two million people in Gaza after toppling Hamas is the problem which postpones the confrontation.”
Commenting on this, Dr Saleh Al-Naami, a specialist in Israel Studies, told MEMO that all what has happened is just a matter of understanding. “If this reaches the stage of a deal, it would last for a long time because both Israel and Hamas are interested in tranquillity regardless of the different goals behind achieving it.”
Meanwhile, Fatah and the PA accused Hamas of reinforcing the equation of “blood for money” after accepting the salaries of civil servants paid by Qatar and a $10m per month donation for essential fuel for Gaza’s sole electricity plant for six months. Israeli Environment Minister Zeev Elkin accused PA President Mahmoud Abbas of causing the tension in Gaza by stopping the peace talks with Israel and cutting the civil servants’ salaries in the first place.
“This money is not going to fund Hamas activities,” he told Tel Aviv’s Radio 102 FM. “It is money that is going to the salaries of civil servants, in an orderly, organised manner.” He claimed, reported Reuters, that Abbas stopped paying the salaries in order to “inflame Gaza, because he has not been successful on other fronts… The Qataris came along and said: ‘We are willing to pay this instead of Abbas, in order to calm Gaza down’. What does it matter who pays it?”
Hamas is continuing with its efforts to have the 12-year-old Israeli-led siege lifted to ease the pressure on the Palestinians in Gaza, who have experienced three major Israeli offensives since 2008 and multiple major incursions that have claimed thousands of lives and destroyed the territory’s infrastructure. Israel, explained Al-Naami, also wants some tranquillity in Gaza. “This will give it time to tackle what is happening with Iran, Syria and Lebanon, while it doesn’t want to spoil the ongoing wave of normalisation with the Arab states.”
As far as the PA is concerned, the specialist in Israel Studies believes that it has no choice in the matter. “If Israel makes a decision, it imposes it on the PA and all of its institutions. The Secretary of the PLO, Saeb Erekat, was clear about this when he said that Israel had warned the PA against trying to disrupt the current lull in the conflict with Hamas in Gaza.” Abbas, noted Al-Naami, was also pressured by the Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi not to oppose the understandings between Hamas and Israel. “Hence, the lull will last as long as Hamas and Israel consent to it.” Other options, he concluded, would swing into play if either of these parties change their mind.
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