Hamas, PA Census Bureau Locked in Dispute Over Gaza Survey

The United Nations and Palestinian parliament members are mediating between Hamas and the Palestinian Central Statistics Bureau (CBS) over a census taken in the Gaza Strip.

The Hamas authorities shut the CBS offices last month and declared the census suspended, after CBS refused to hand over its data to a committee Hamas set up to supervise the census.

CBS, which began the census in August, has conducted a survey of industries and structures in the West Bank and Gaza; it had planned to complete the Gaza Strip census by December 16. CBS officials had been thoroughly trained for the task and went door-to-door to fill in the census forms.

The Palestinian Authority's first census was held in 1997.

CBS head Dr. Louay Shabaneh told Haaretz he did not believe Hamas wanted to hide any of the data. He believes Hamas wanted to make it clear that it controlled the Gaza Strip and should therefore be privy to the data.

Shabaneh told Hamas authorities that their demand to receive the census data was against the law, as CBS was not a political body. He said there was only one government - the one in Ramallah.

Hamas appears to have planned its moves with an eye to establishing its power and demonstrating its presence.

Shutting the CBS offices came two days after Hamas took over the court buildings in Gaza City as a final move to establish a separate judicial authority in the strip.

A day after closing the bureau, Hamas' minister for local government affairs, Dr. Ziyad al-Zaza, appointed Imad Siam as director general of the Gaza Strip municipality instead of the official in that post since 2002. On December 1, the interior minister appointed several municipal department heads and fired the incumbent ones.

That night, police confiscated the cars of Gaza Mayor Dr. Majid Abu Ramadan and his deputy, who are both identified with Fatah. The following day, police prevented city council members from holding a meeting in a city-owned hall.

Since June, Hamas authorities have been appointing Hamas officials in Rafah, Beit Lahiya and the Al-Boreij refugee camp.

All three authorities have been run by appointed committees since 2005, after the mayoral election results there had been disputed.

The PA suspended the elections in Gaza in 2005 when it realized Hamas was going to win.

This non-democratic move is one of the arguments Hamas uses for moving to oust Fatah officials.

Democratic municipal elections are not likely to be held soon.

Ramallah's municipal employees have only been paid by the PA's offices in the city a few times since last November; to protest this, they launched a three-month strike.

The strike severely disrupted municipal services. Here, too, Hamas authorities hope to prove that their people can be more effective than Fatah's.

When the municipality is run by Hamas supporters, Hamas authorities in Gaza are more likely to find the money to pay their salaries and make sure the streets are clean. This is another victory in Hamas' power struggle.