Immediately after the resignation of Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah late last month and the growing talk within the Palestinian Authority that the future government intends to isolate Hamas in Gaza, regaining control of Gaza from Hamas, and imposing more measures in order to suffocate it, we heard growing calls in Gaza to form a local administration for the Gaza Strip to manage the daily affairs of the Palestinians.
This is not the first time that the people of Gaza have proposed this option given the PA’s neglect of Gaza and the growing humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip. The current data and statistics indicate that a popular explosion is eminent and no one knows in which direction it will go.
I have attended a number of consultative meetings in recent weeks and months in Gaza, which included many political factions, experts and academics who spoke about Gaza’s need to establish a local administration, which may include in the future local elections for its municipal councils. They also talked about granting government authorities and privileges apart from authorities related to foreign policy and security. There are also some called for forming administrative bodies agreed upon by all the Palestinians, that would include intellectuals and specialists that will begin immediately to manage the affairs of the residents in Gaza.
The truth is that the Palestinian situation has developed continuously, and the call by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to hold legislative elections within the next six months, followed by the resignation of the Rami Hamdallah government, has caused Gaza to be overlooked and disregarded. If we rule out the option of a military confrontation between Hamas and Israel as part of the export of the internal crisis, given the slim chance it has at achieving what it sets out to do, then this article will discuss the chances of forming a self-administration in Gaza or other forms such as a federation, or local elections limited to Gaza. It will also discuss which factions would participate and which will refuse and where the local administration would get the necessary funding and financial assistance.
The issue of appointing a local administration that manages the citizens’ affairs, helps them to cope with difficult living conditions, and stands by them in bearing the burdens of life that have become unbearable has become a high priority at this time, more than any other option. This is due to a number of considerations, perhaps the most important of which is the fact that it does not need any legal measures or long-winded bureaucratic complications. Instead, it is summed up by a gathering of a number of Gaza’s senior figures, including politicians, experts, technocrats, members of the civil society, and others who are brought together solely by their desire to rescue Gaza from the catastrophe it is suffering.
Politics has never been innocent and never will be as long as the devil is in the details. Everyone participating has the right to ask a number of basic questions that need to be answered, such as: who will lead this local administration? What is its political and legal grounds? Since Hamas controls Gaza, will it have the right to veto any decisions or measures? In other words, is the formation of the local administration a safe escape for Hamas from the administrative and government scene in Gaza, as it is hoping to get rid of these burdens, and if so, what is required of the movement to achieve this?
Furthermore, those who can be described as the “solution” people in Gaza have personal fears that the local administration will not succeed given the suffocating financial crisis suffered by Gaza, the lack of economic resources, and the decline in funding from donor countries. This may leave the chances of achieving their aspirations of rescuing Gaza in major doubt since the most important motive for Hamas to explore this option is the fact that it is suffering from a financial crisis. Hamas would not resort to this alternative if it was in a comfortable financial and administrative situation, but rather resorted to it because it is suffering. This is not a secret to anyone and therefore it wants to rescue Gaza along with the others and to stop the spectre of the next disaster.
Another liability that would cause those involved in the formation of this local administration to count to ten before engaging in it is the fear for their personal interests and their local, regional and international relations. Everyone knows that this administration will not see the light of day without Hamas’ approval and its implicit or explicit endorsement. This means there must be personal considerations by those involved in the administration, including businessmen who need permits from Israel to leave Gaza and civil society activists who receive funding from Western countries who still view Hamas as a terrorist organisation. This means that their proximity to the movement would threaten their sources of funding.
‘Restoring’ the Administrative Committee
After Hamas relinquished its government, which it had run in Gaza following the signing of the Al-Shati reconciliation agreement in mid-2014, in preparation for the Government of National Accord (GNA) to take over its responsibilities in the Gaza Strip, the GNA avoided responsibility under various pretexts. It continued to treat Gazans as tenth-class citizens and marginalised this geographical area. This resulted in an administrative vacuum that forced the government staff in the ministries located in Gaza, associated with Hamas, to continue managing the Gaza Strip’s affairs. This situation lasted until March 2017 when Hamas announced the formation of an administrative committee to manage the affairs in Gaza.
The administrative committee worked for six months until Gaza announced in September 2017 the dissolution of the committee after several Palestinian demands to do so. It is worth noting that Hamas was not in dire need of this committee, as it has controlled and managed the affairs in Gaza before and after the formation of this committee. The PA itself is aware of this, as well as Israel and the international community, as cited by the fact that Gaza’s affairs were not managed randomly, but rather in accordance to a government plan separate from Ramallah that does not deal with the Gaza Strip in the same manner as the West Bank.
However, the decision to dissolve the administrative committee at the time did not relieve Hamas and Gaza and alleviate its siege and humanitarian crisis. The decision to dissolve it was followed by the PA imposing harsh punitive measures on Gaza, including cutting employee salaries, reducing humanitarian aid, reducing medical treatment, and other punitive measures that continue until now.
Today, voices in Hamas are calling for the restoration of this administrative committee to fill the vacuum in the governmental situation and to respond to the decisions of the Palestinian Authority and its President Mahmoud Abbas regarding the dissolution of the Palestinian Legislative Council. The PA has also started taking steps to begin the formation of a new government and to increase the severity of the punitive measures imposed on Gaza, even threatening to declare Gaza a rogue entity, including the severe and harsh measures this involves.
It can be said that Hamas’ re-activation of the administrative committee, at least in the media, would be a gift from heaven to those hostile to Gaza, and they would use it as an excuse for all of the suffering imposed on the movement and Gaza. They would claim that Hamas formed a parallel government. I am not exaggerating by saying that if Hamas were to actually go through with this step, it would be scoring a goal against itself at a time when it has been blocking attacks on its goal by several players.
The essence of the crisis in Gaza today is an economic humanitarian crisis, apart from its political angles. Palestinians believe that the political deadlock between Fatah and Hamas cannot be resolved after all attempts at mediation and reconciliation have failed. This has translated into suffering accumulating day after day and the only people paying the price are the people residing in Gaza who suffer harsh and poor living conditions. The situation may remain unchanged until further notice.
As long as most of the indicators of the disaster in Gaza are translated in aspects on the ground that we see with our own eyes on a daily basis, such as the unemployment lines, begging and service issues, then the body most able to resolve them are municipal committees in coordination with the international humanitarian organisations, especially the UNRWA.
Today the municipalities that won in the 2005 elections are playing a major role in alleviating the suffering of the Palestinians in Gaza, but they themselves were subject to many problems. All of their electoral terms have ended, as they were elected over 14 years ago, and most of them are supervised and monitored by Hamas implicitly or directly. This means that they do not represent all the Palestinians on one hand, and on the other, it does not encourage international organisations to provide aid and financial grants to the committees and municipalities.
Local elections seem to be the least costly option for Hamas. While it does not mean immediate relief for the poor conditions in Gaza, it will work to relieve the burdens of this difficult phase, on one hand, and will give the Palestinians in Gaza the opportunity to represent themselves in the institutions and committees that manage their affairs directly, on the other.
I know full well that the situation in Gaza is a political one, despite the fact that it has an economic cover, but the indefinite continuation of the political stalemate will only mean an imminent popular internal explosion, either within Gaza or towards Israel. Either way, the results will be catastrophic. We will only move from a slow death by besiegement and suffering to a quick death by bombing and fire. This requires Hamas to consider these options with a level head and with collective participation and to move completely away from sanctifying the status quo and sticking to it under various pretexts.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.