A total of 5,043 Palestinians from the Gaza Strip did not receive their regular monthly salaries or government allowances from the Palestinian Authority at the beginning of February, Palestinian media outlets and human rights organizations have said.
Palestinian sources have told Haaretz that the withholding of the payments came on direct instructions from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ office to the Palestinian Authority’s Finance and Planning Ministry, but the sources said they were unable to obtain any further information on the matter from the ministry.
The Gazans affected by the withholding of the payments are affiliated with either Islamic Jihad, Hamas or with supporters of Mohammed Dahlan, a rival of Abbas in the Palestinian president’s Fatah movement. Some 900 of the more than 5,000 people affected are recipients of prison allowances from the Palestinian Authority, sources told Haaretz, and 133 of them are currently in Israeli prisons. The others are former inmates of Israeli jails.
Families receiving allowances because they have children who were killed or wounded by the Israeli army account for 1,700 of the recipients affected. The remaining individuals affected are either salaried public sector employees or retired public sector workers for whom the funds are pension benefits.
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The withholding of the funds is being interpreted as one more economic sanction on Abbas’ part against the Gaza Strip and the Hamas movement that governs it, but it is also inflicting direct harm on those whom the Palestinian Authority president views as political enemies either in his own Fatah movement or beyond it. Because about a fifth of those affected are current or former prisoners, some observers believe the step is also related to Israel’s intention to deduct the prisoner payments from customs duties that Israel collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority.
Former prisoners have told Haaretz that they are concerned that, despite assurances that the PA will not withhold prisoner allowances, the PA will in fact accede to Israeli demands and at least significantly reduce the amounts the prisoners receive.
Over the past two or three years, the Finance Ministry in Ramallah has gradually cut public sector salary payments in the Gaza Strip on Abbas’ orders. About 30,000 public sector employees have either been forced to take early retirement or have had their pension payments reduced. They include 17,000 members of the security forces and 13,000 other public sector employees.
In addition, the wages of about 40,000 salaried employees have been reduced by 30 to 50 percent. A considerable proportion of the salaried workers have been receiving their allowances since 2007 – when Hamas ousted the Palestinian Authority from Gaza – on the condition that they not work for the Hamas government, a condition put in place by Abbas following the PA’s ouster. The remaining recipients, including primarily lower wage earners, mostly from the education, health and social affairs ministries, have continued to work for the Hamas government.
Last year, the PA suspended wage payments for a few months to tens of thousands of salaried employees in Gaza, including supporters of the PA and the Fatah movement. Now the PA has resumed paying those salaries but is only making partial payment.