Palestinian Authority, Hamas Agree to Defer Transfer of Government Ministries in Gaza

Hamas officials objected when PA staff tried to return to the positions they held before the Hamas takeover of the Strip in 2007

Hamas security men stand guard at a checkpoint they still hold in Beit Hanun, the northern access point into the Gaza Strip, having handed over border control to the Palestinian Authority on November 1, 2017
THOMAS COEX/AFP

The Palestinian Authority and Hamas agreed on Wednesday to push back the transfer of government ministries in Gaza to resolve a dispute between employees loyal to each faction.

Earlier on Wednesday, Hamas bureaucrats prevented senior Palestinian Authority officials, including the PA's minister of local government, Hussein al-Alaraj, from entering the government ministry offices in Gaza City. The incident came after Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah ordered all Palestinian Authority staff in Gaza who had stopped coming to work after the forcible Hamas takeover of Gaza in 2007 to report to their former offices.

Hamas officials objected to the return of the PA staff until a solution is found for the Hamas-affiliated employees who took over at the ministries. The group claimed that the return of those loyal to the PA, which is dominated by the Fatah party, is contrary to the spirit of the reconciliation agreement.

Both sides agreed that the transfer will take place in 10 days, on December 10. The parties agreed to the delay to diffuse tensions between the sides and to enable the reconciliation agreement that was signed in November in Cairo to be implemented.

The decision to defer it was made at a meeting between the head of the Hamas political bureau, Yahya Sinwar, and Palestinian Authority representatives, including Deputy Prime Minister Ziad Abu Amr, as well as members of an Egyptian security delegation that is currently in Gaza.

After Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip in 2007, PA President Mahmoud Abbas ordered his officials employed in Gaza not to work under the Hamas government. The decision affected 65,000 civil servants and security staff. The PA promised to continue to pay their salaries even if they weren’t working, while Hamas pressed at least some, mainly in the health system, to return to work. It also hired 45,000 civil servants to fill the void. They were paid from tax proceeds collected by Hamas.

A Fatah-Hamas reconciliation agreement signed in Cairo in 2011 stated that a mechanism would be established to send thousands of workers into retirement and regulate the employment of others at the ministries. Two months ago, Hamas and Fatah, the party that controls the Palestinian Authority, signed another agreement but it didn’t settle the salary dispute.

The PA’s Civilian Affairs Ministry has claimed that Hamas had effectively paralyzed the government, enabling only 5 percent of it to function. The Hamas spokesman in the Gaza Strip, Fawzi Barhoum, accused the PA of fomenting chaos at the ministries in Gaza, calling it an irresponsible decision.

Hamas and Fatah also fell out in November over the opening of the Rafah crossing between Egypt and the Strip. The PA made the opening of the border crossing conditional on its controlling the entire security apparatus in Gaza and its full control over the government. No agreement could be reached. The two sides made a vague statement about agreeing to hold a general election for the presidency and parliament, but there is no certainty that this will happen.

Fatah also accuses Hamas of being influenced in connection with the reconciliation agreement by foreign forces, particularly Iran and Qatar. Hamas, for its part, accuses the Palestinian Authority of wanting to sabotage the reconciliation.