Pres­i­dent Abbas plans anti-Ha­mas mea­sures

A cor­nered Ha­mas could re­new vi­o­lence against Is­rael

Kuwait Times - - International -

RAMALLAH: The decade-long Pales­tinian split looks set to deepen in the com­ing months, with pres­i­dent Mah­mud Abbas poised to take mul­ti­ple mea­sures against Gaza to squeeze its Is­lamist rulers Ha­mas. The moves raise con­cerns of more suf­fer­ing for Gaza’s two mil­lion res­i­dents, al­ready un­der an Is­raeli block­ade and fac­ing se­vere elec­tric­ity short­ages, while a cor­nered Ha­mas could re­new vi­o­lence against Is­rael.

An­a­lysts say the mea­sures will also widen the gap be­tween Ha­mas-run Gaza and the oc­cu­pied West Bank, where Abbas’s gov­ern­ment has lim­ited self-rule. Ha­mas and Abbas’s sec­u­lar Fatah party have been at log­ger­heads since the Is­lamists seized con­trol of Gaza from Abbas’s forces in a near civil war in 2007, a year after sweep in­g­ing par­lia­men­tary elec­tions. Ha­mas has since fought three bloody wars with Is­rael and fears of a fourth re­main.

Mul­ti­ple rec­on­cil­i­a­tion at­tempts be­tween the Pales­tinian fac­tions have failed but Egypt thought it had made a break­through in late 2017 when the two sides agreed to even­tu­ally share power. As part of that agree­ment Ha­mas with­drew from bor­der cross­ings be­tween Gaza and Egypt and Is­rael, al­low­ing the Fatah­dom­i­nated Pales­tinian Au­thor­ity to re­turn and the Egyp­tian bor­der to be re­opened reg­u­larly. The rec­on­cil­i­a­tion agree­ment has since col­lapsed ac­ri­mo­niously. Yes­ter­day, the PA an­nounced it would with­draw from the Egyp­tian bor­der cross­ing, cre­at­ing a dilemma for Cairo about whether to leave it open with Ha­mas in con­trol. So far they have in­di­cated they will. Se­nior of­fi­cials close to Abbas say he is look­ing for other mea­sures to pun­ish Ha­mas.

‘Very im­por­tant de­ci­sions’ Among these could be re­mov­ing staff from the cross­ings be­tween Is­rael and Gaza — mak­ing it hard for the Jew­ish state to al­low any­thing into the ter­ri­tory with­out deal­ing di­rectly with Ha­mas, which it and many other coun­tries la­bel a ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion. They could also in­clude cut­ting salaries to fam­i­lies of Ha­mas pris­on­ers or re­scind­ing Pales­tinian pass­ports for Ha­mas em­ploy­ees.

Abbas has also pledged to dis­solve the Ha­mas-dom­i­nated Pales­tinian par­lia­ment, which though it hasn’t met since the 2007 split is still nom­i­nally the ba­sis for new laws. “Very im­por­tant de­ci­sions against Ha­mas are be­ing dis­cussed,” a se­nior of­fi­cial said on con­di­tion of anonymity. It fol­lows a se­ries of ar­rests of those af­fil­i­ated with Fatah in Gaza, ac­cord­ing to Abbas al­lies. The of­fi­cial said the PA spent around $100 mil­lion per month in Gaza, in­clud­ing for elec­tric­ity sub­si­dies, and was look­ing to cut back sig­nif­i­cantly. “Those that want to rule Gaza must bear the re­spon­si­bil­ity of gov­ern­ing it,” the of­fi­cial said.

Az­zam al-Ah­mad, a se­nior Abbas ally and ne­go­tia­tor of the 2017 rec­on­cil­i­a­tion agree­ment, told AFP “the lead­er­ship is con­sid­er­ing a num­ber of mea­sures”.

Se­nior Ha­mas of­fi­cial Bassem Naim said the Is­lamists had seen sim­i­lar threats be­fore. “Any type of sanc­tions such as elec­tric­ity, prevent­ing medicine, clos­ing the bor­der or cut­ting the salaries are in­tended to black­mail res­i­dents into ris­ing against Ha­mas and they fail,” he told AFP. “This is the most that Abbas can do.”

‘Short-term think­ing’

The Pales­tini­ans have faced stark chal­lenges over the past two years, with US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump lead­ing what he has called the most pro-Is­rael ad­min­is­tra­tion in the coun­try’s his­tory. Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu’s right-wing gov­ern­ment has mean­while con­tin­ued to ex­pand set­tle­ments in the West Bank.

Abbas’s gov­ern­ment froze con­tacts with the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion after it rec­og­nized the dis­puted city of Jerusalem as Is­rael’s cap­i­tal in De­cem­ber 2017. The deep­en­ing split be­tween the two fac­tions weak­ens their abil­ity to re­spond to such pres­sure, said Hugh Lo­vatt of the Euro­pean Coun­cil on For­eign Re­la­tions think-tank.

He said the PA with­drawal from the bor­der cross­ings was part of a “pack­age of mea­sures de­signed to try and squeeze Ha­mas.” “It is not ir­re­versible but it is cer­tainly a very neg­a­tive step. This is short-term think­ing tri­umph­ing longer-term strat­egy.” Na­dia Hi­jab, pres­i­dent of the Al-Shabaka Pales­tinian think-tank, said the in­fight­ing pre­vented a united front against Is­raeli poli­cies. “Pales­tini­ans fear that this lat­est move will ce­ment the divi­sion and lead to a com­plete break be­tween Gaza and the West Bank, some­thing Is­rael has been push­ing,” she said.—AFP

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