Analysis

Gaza Electricity Crisis: When Hamas and the Palestinian Authority Clash, Israel Wins

Granted, the Palestinians' political schism is worsening the Strip’s humanitarian crisis. But it is Israel that denies freedom of movement by land, sea and air to over 2 million Gazans

A Palestinian man walks past the United Nations food distribution center in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, June 11, 2017.
IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA/REUTERS

The dispute that broke out this week over the Gaza Strip’s electricity crisis, following the Israeli security cabinet’s decision to reduce power to Gaza in line with the Palestinian Authority’s reduction in payments, shows just how blind the public and media are to what’s been happening in the Strip in recent years.

Media reports focus mainly on security issues and developments within Hamas, such as the election of Yahya Sinwar and Ismail Haniyeh to head its military and political wings, respectively. They also stress that the PA and its president, Mahmoud Abbas, are the ones exerting pressure on Gaza – not Israel, not its blockade, not the control it exerts over more than 2 million Gazans.

But anyone who has been following the situation closely knows that Israel’s decision Sunday night to reduce the electricity it provides Gaza won’t have much of an impact on the anger, disappointment and despair gripping most Gazan residents.

Granted, the Palestinians’ political schism and the power struggles between the PA and Hamas are worsening Gaza’s humanitarian crisis. Both sides have lost any sense of shame. They are sabotaging Palestinian national interests and the supreme goal of independence and self-determination, to which every Palestinian aspires. They are focused more on their own power and survival than on forging a unified strategy for achieving their people’s legitimate goals.

Nevertheless, Israel is a sovereign state. And as such it bears a greater responsibility than do the Palestinians, who haven’t yet achieved their freedom.

Israel’s claim that the borders are closed mainly due to security considerations might be logical if the Palestinians in either the West Bank or Gaza had another option for gaining freedom of movement, such as by sea or air.

Israel has the right to protect itself, like any country that has no diplomatic ties with a neighbor. But it doesn’t have the right to completely deny freedom of movement to more than 4.5 million Palestinians.

For proof that Israel has another option, look at Lebanon. It is home to Hezbollah, which Israel considers a bitter enemy. Hezbollah’s resources are far greater than those of Hamas, including the ability to launch rockets capable of hitting anyplace in Israel. It also has a much deeper hinterland than Hamas, thanks to neighboring Syria.

Nevertheless, Israel hasn’t imposed either a naval blockade or an aerial blockade on Lebanon. Instead, its security services cope with the threat. Usually, they rely on technology and intelligence sources; sometimes Israel launches airstrikes inside Lebanon or Syria to protect what it deems its security interests; and sometimes it even goes to war against Hezbollah, as it did in 2006.

But when it comes to the Palestinians, and especially the residents of Gaza, Israel’s behavior is completely different. The Palestinians can’t go anywhere unless Israel consents to every step. And ever since Hamas seized control of Gaza, sparking the internal Palestinian schism, Israel has maintained a status quo based on minimizing contact between the West Bank and Gaza.

Even though Israel assails Abbas for his lack of control over Gaza and claims it can’t make a peace deal with him because of that failing, it would actually be quite happy to keep the situation as it has been for the last few years, as long as its deterrence holds and its security isn’t harmed.

Israeli politicians and army officers frequently say Hamas has been deterred since 2014 and isn’t interested in another war. Even Hamas itself says it isn’t looking for another full-scale confrontation. But Hamas has also shown no flexibility over a formula that could enable the PA to resume control of Gaza, while the PA and Abbas understand they have no possibility of regaining control of Gaza in the current situation.

All three players have found a comfortable formula that enables them to conduct day-to-day business within the status quo and continue playing for time, while dealing from time to time with arising crises.

The worsening electricity shortage in Gaza is apparently just one more crisis that the parties will have to deal with in the near future. Most likely, it will be temporarily solved, once again, by an infusion of international aid.

Thus, Hamas and the PA will continue their spat, and Israel will continue with its policies, on the assumption that the Palestinians know quite well how to cope with suffering. The only question is, for how long?