Is the Hamas Fatah union already in trouble?
It is hard to believe that the reconciliation between rival factions Fatah and Hamas is based on good faith. Hamas, which ruled Gaza by force and established a state and security agencies, would not have handed over what it built over the course of eight years to its opponent simply “for the sake of the country and the citizens.” Fatah also did not agree to reconcile with the party that deposed it by force out of the kindness of its heart.
The reconciliation process between Fatah and Hamas culminated in forming a temporary consensus government. This, however, did not prevent the president of the Palestinian Authority (PA), Mahmoud Abbas, from taking positions that provoked Hamas’ leaders during a two-day visit to Egypt. But the Hamas-Fatah dispute was not prompted by Abbas offering congratulations to his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fatah al-Sisi even though the field marshal has become enemy number one in Hamas’ book.
During the visit, Abbas acted like a physician, offering prescriptions for the crises in the region. He said that “what happened on June 30 saved the region from chaos as small Islamic principalities signified division.” This characterization, which has been used before, is not too far from describing Gaza under Hamas.
Abbas said in a TV interview the day before yesterday, “All the Arabs defended themselves when they supported ousting the Muslim Brotherhood.” He also pointed out that Syrians made a mistake when they let their country become an arena for global conflicts, noting that he asked Palestinians there to take a neutral position.
That is what Abbas believes the Palestinian regional policy should be after the Arab Spring. As for domestic politics, he emphasized once more that the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) has nothing to offer except peaceful resistance against Israeli assaults. Abbas revealed he agreed with Hamas that negotiations with Israel fall within the powers of the PLO only. He went on: “After the technocratic government, we will form a consensus and not a unity government. This government will be committed to the policies that I will draw. It will recognize Israel, reject violence and accept negotiations and security coordination... Frankly this is the government and they agreed to it.” About Gaza, he said: “There will be no resistance in Gaza and the presidential guard will be deployed at all the crossings and borders of the Gaza Strip... Only then there will be reconciliation, otherwise it won’t happen.”
Regardless of whether Hamas accepts what Abbas said or denies some of it, the worst case scenario after forming the consensus government and Hamas willfully relinquishing control of Gaza is that re-seizing the reins of power, even if it is done without a battle, will give the president the option of declaring the Gaza Strip a renegade territory. Countries around the world will not hesitate to recognize this as reality if it were to happen just as it quickly recognized the new government. What is worrisome is that Abbas’ statements coincide with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s demand yesterday “to press ahead with the process of disarming the resistance in Gaza as a continuation of his pledge to disarm it in the West Bank.”
Hamas did not officially comment on what Abbas said except to criticize his decision to honor the head of the Middle East Forum for Strategic Studies, Egyptian scholar Muhammad Hamza known as Samir Ghattas, and give him a medal. The Islamist movement’s spokesperson, Sami Abu Zahra said, “Hamas refuses to give Ghattas a medal because it is unacceptable to reward someone who incites against the people and the resistance.”
Thus a new kind of division emerged between employees who have not been paid yet and others who are barred from receiving their salaries. In addition, the rival factions went back to exchanging media attacks. Fatah believes that Hamas should continue to pay for its former rule over Gaza. A number of Fatah leaders argued that it is not possible to put 50,000 employees that worked for the sacked government of Hamas on the payroll of the consensus government all at once. Meanwhile Hamas, for the fifth day in a row, has unofficially closed the banks in Gaza, pointing out that its policemen are present there to protect the banks’ staff from the anger of “its employees who have not been paid their salaries.”
To top it off, Fatah-affiliated employees who were discharged in 2005 stormed the Fatah leadership headquarters yesterday to protest the continued suspension of their salaries despite the formation of a new government. This shifted the already existing division from the political level to that of social classes, which are economically fragile in Gaza. Thus a new kind of division emerged between employees who have not been paid yet and others who are barred from receiving their salaries.
Despite Fatah’s aggressive stance, Hamas’ response through the media was not at the same level. It simply pointed out that they are no longer in power and that the new government headed by Rami al-Hamdallah should assume responsibility for all employees without discrimination. It was rumored that Hamdallah threatened, during a closed meeting, to resign if the banks’ closure continues. If his words were to show his concern that employees should receive their salaries, let us remember that he is the same man who headed two Fatah governments which had previously reduced the salaries of those same employees.
Head of the Public Workers Union, Bassam Zakarneh, denied knowing anything about Hamdallah’s resignation threat. In a press statement he asked “reasonable leaders in Hamas” to end this issue quickly and to “avoid using the workers’ livelihood as leverage.” He revealed the union’s intention to escalate if the banks continue to close. Zakarneh did not only appeal to the leadership for a solution, he also called on Hamas to “cooperate with the countries that used to support it until talks about all the issues of the reconciliation are over.”
There is also no news about actual measures to pump in Qatari money, which a number of Hamas leaders, including former Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and politburo member Khalil al-Hayya, had announced. There is no doubt that any support given to the consensus government by Emir of Qatar Tamim bin Hamad has to be in accordance with international conditions in finance before it reaches the pockets of Hamas’ employees.
The process of office handover between the old and the new government is almost over. As Hamas and Fatah set off down the path of consenus government, one must wonder, is the honeymoon period from their union already over?