Abbas Keeps Up Pressure on Hamas With New Economic Sanctions

Palestinian Authority will begin cutting welfare allowances to families, force thousands of PA employees in Gaza to retire, says official

A boy waves a Palestinian flag during a protest by Palestinian Authority employees against what they say are deductions on their salaries, in Gaza City on April 8, 2017.
MOHAMMED SALEM/REUTERS

The Palestinian Authority plans to intensify its pressure on Gaza’s Hamas-run government by slashing welfare payments to families in the enclave, a senior official close to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has told Haaretz.

The official said that some 80,000 families in the Gaza Strip get monthly stipends of a few thousand shekels from the Palestinian Authority’s Welfare Ministry, but added: “Sixty thousand of those families have ties to Hamas. Their economic situation is relatively good, and they don’t need the allowances, and the remaining families have other income.”

Welfare cuts to families not affiliated with Hamas will be carried out only at a later stage, and will be temporary, he added.

The PA also plans to retire all employees of the Gaza health and education systems who are still on its payroll, as a cost-cutting measure, the official said. This step is expected to affect a few thousand people. They will join the 6,000 other Gaza bureaucrats whom the PA sent into retirement last month.

The planned cuts were also reported in the London-based Arabic newspaper Al-Hayat. “If Hamas sees itself as the responsible party and the sovereign in the strip, then it, not the Palestinian Authority, should be responsible for all the expenses,” a senior PA official told that newspaper.

In addition, the Palestinian Authority suspended the payment of salaries this month to 37 Hamas legislators who live in the West Bank. Ahmed Bahar, a Hamas legislator who serves as deputy speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council, called the decision “a declaration of war against the legislative council.”

The Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority hasn’t paid salaries to Hamas parliamentarians in Gaza since the Islamist movement took over the enclave by force in 2007.

The welfare cuts and forced early retirements are just the latest in a long series of economic sanctions the PA has instituted against Hamas. Others have included reducing the PA’s payments for electricity supplied by Israel to Gaza by 30 percent — in the process curbing power supplies to the strip — as well as a reduction in the number of permits issued to patients in Gaza allowing them to receive medical treatment in Israel or the West Bank.

Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah has said the sanctions are a response to Hamas’ decision to set up an administrative council to run Gaza’s affairs. The PA interpreted this as an effort to create a shadow government of sorts that challenged the PA’s authority.

The Palestinian Authority and Hamas have also been wrangling over Hamas’ relationship with Egypt and the steps Cairo is prepared to take to ease life for residents of Gaza. The enclave has been subject to major restrictions on the movement of people and goods over Gaza's borders not only by Israel but also by the Egyptians.

Senior Hamas officials said their organization’s talks with Egyptian intelligence officials in Cairo over the past month have resulted in understandings that will lead to the reopening of Gaza’s Rafah border crossing with Egypt. But Azzam al-Ahmad, a senior official from President Abbas' Fatah movement who accompanied Abbas to Cairo for a meeting with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi earlier this week, insisted that Egypt will not reopen the Rafah border crossing on a regular basis unless Hamas lets the PA resume control of the crossing. In an interview with Palestinian television, Ahmad said Egypt assured Abbas during his visit that anything the Egyptians did in Gaza would be to bolster the Palestinian Authority and Abbas himself.

So far, Egypt has neither confirmed nor denied Hamas’ claims. A senior Egyptian official involved in the issue told Haaretz that Cairo is wary of doing anything that would grant Hamas diplomatic legitimacy as Gaza’s sovereign ruler, but since Hamas does rule the territory in practice, Egypt is interested in taking steps that could help avoid another war there.