Abd Al-karim Shweiki
The Media Line
August 6, 2008 - 2:21pm

Under pressure from Palestinian Authority officials, P.A. head Mahmoud ‘Abbas may declare the Gaza Strip “rebel-held territory,” suspend payment of electricity and water bills to Israeli companies on behalf of the coastal enclave and halt all financial assistance to the Gaza Strip, Palestinian sources have told The Media Line.
The sources, who asked not to be named, pointed out that these officials believe it is unreasonable for Fatah to fund the Hamas regime in Gaza, since this would prolong the life of the organization in Gaza.
The suggestion came immediately after the recent Hamas crackdown on the Hilles clan, a strong Fatah family in Gaza.
The sources pointed out that ‘Abbas has not given final approval to this proposal. However, some officials attending a meeting to discuss the moves recommended waiting before taking such steps; others rejected it without Arab backing, while others welcomed it.
If ‘Abbas approves this approach he will first need the okay of the executive committee of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), which is the highest Palestinian ruling body in the absence of the National Palestinian Council.
Officials close to ‘Abbas told The Media Line that ‘Abbas prefers to first study the political and economic ramifications of such a decision before accepting it.
“Abu Mazen (‘Abbas) would not take such a decision without consulting with Arab leaders to get their backing,” one official said.
“Making such a decision means asking all the governments and international organizations – whether Arab, Muslim or foreign – to stop all kinds of help to this rebel-held territory...this is not an easy decision and thus it needs to be discussed in depth. But it is on the table,” the official added.
‘Abbas and P.A. Prime Minister Salam Faya’d recently declared that 58 percent of the Palestinian budget was currently spent on Gaza in the form of salaries and social assistance. The P.A. also remits millions of dollars monthly to Israel’s electricity and water companies for supplying Gaza.
Given the fact the European Union is already paying for the fuel used by the electricity company in Gaza, Palestinian officials in favor of this proposal are wondering whether the EU could be pushed to pay Gaza’s electricity and water bills to prevent the possibility of a humanitarian crisis in the Strip.
U.N. organizations estimate that 80% of the 1.4 million Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip are dependent on the assistance of the international community. In addition, Arab countries that have recently delayed sending financial support to the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah are waiting to see the start of reconciliation efforts.
A senior Palestinian official said, “The question is whether the Arabs will be ready to boycott and not support the Hamas regime in Gaza and what would they say to their people?
“They may say that they can’t appear in the eyes of their people to be the ones who are boycotting their brothers in Palestine,” he added.
Another issue ‘Abbas has to keep in mind is the effect of such a decision on his calls for national-reconciliation dialogue.
But officials from Fatah are trying to convince ‘Abbas that Hamas is not interested in dialogue. A senior Fatah official told The Media Line: “Hamas is not interested in dialogue with others; all they want is to rule Gaza alone.”
The official explained that, “after securing a quiet deal with Israel, Hamas felt frustrated because the Israelis didn’t open the Gaza crossing borders as they wished and now they are using this demand as a bargaining chip to starting renewed negotiations with the Israelis through Egyptian mediation to release Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in return for Palestinian prisoners in the Israeli jails.
“Hamas is trying to push the Palestinian dialogue until after the holy month of Ramadan ends (in October) believing that by then a deal on Shalit will be sealed and then the Rafah border crossing will be opened, as well as thinking that this will give them a golden opportunity to impose their conditions in the dialogue,” the official said.
According to sources close to the Palestinian chairman, “both the Egyptians and the Israelis have stressed that the Rafah crossing borders will be opened only in accordance with to the 2005 deal, which gives Hamas no presence at the crossing itself. This gives Hamas more frustration and that’s why they want to appear as the only rulers of Gaza and that nothing can be done by bypassing them,” he said.
Senior Palestinian officials told The Media Line that the one who rules Hamas now is Mahmoud A-Zahhar, a senior Hamas leader in Gaza.
“Clearly, A-Zahhar is against any sort of dialogue even though Hamas leaders in Damascus do favor dialogue after being pushed by Syria, which wants to show the Israelis and the Americans seriousness from its part about the indirect negotiations with Israel.”
Some Palestinian officials fear that if a decision to stop funding to the Gaza Strip is taken, then this will further separate Gaza and the West Bank.
It is also not clear how the Israeli government would view such a step, and what effect it would have on the ongoing political negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis.
Israeli officials have been in favor of completely cutting relations with Gaza and allowing people there to get their electricity and water and goods from Egypt, which is also the approach that many in Hamas favor. ‘Abbas, however, is against it, saying that Israel, as the occupying power, should shoulder its responsibility towards Gaza and not throw it onto Egypt. 
Hamas, for its part, believes that, “such a decision, if taken, is a sign of bankruptcy on the part of the Palestinian president and proves that ‘Abbas’ calls for a dialogue are only lies,” a Hamas official said.
“The crisis comes as we approach the end of Mahmoud ‘Abbas’ mandate as a president and thus he is looking into ways to transfer outstanding issues to others,” said Hamas’ representative in Lebanon Usama Hamdan. The idea of formally declaring Gaza a rebel-held territory is a part of that process, he said.
Hamdan was referring to the fact that Hamas is calling for a new presidential election on January 11 when ‘Abbas completes four years in office. Abbas’ Fatah party, meanwhile, maintains the election should only be held a year later. ‘Abbas’ advisers argue there are changes in the law that allow for the presidential election and the legislative elections to be held at the same time – early in 2010.
But Hamas insists these amendments to the law are illegal and that they need the approval of the Palestinian Legislative Council.
Law experts are debating the positions of the two sides, while Hamas is preparing to pull down the pictures of ‘Abbas from the official offices in Gaza on January 11 and possibly declaring ‘Aziz A-Dweik, the speaker of the legislative council, as temporary head of the Palestinian authority until new elections are held.
That possibility is something Palestinian voters could see happening; after all, there are already two governments running in parallel – the P.A. in Ramallah and Hamas’ cabinet in Gaza – so why not have two Palestinian leaders at the same time?


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