Analysis: Gaza’s problems in the greater scheme of things

Although this is an internal Palestinian battle, there is concern in Jerusalem that – as was the case in 2014 – Hamas might respond by restoring to its default mode: attacking Israel.

June 13, 2017 04:59
3 minute read.
Palestinian Hamas militants take part in a protest against Israel

Palestinian Hamas militants take part in a protest against the Israeli police raid on Jerusalem's al-Aksa mosque in Khan Yunis. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Following the Palestinian Authority’s lead, Israel’s security cabinet on Sunday decided to cut electricity supply to Hamas-led Gaza, meaning the strip will only have electricity two to three hours a day.

The move comes as the Palestinian Authority – after more than a decade of fighting, often quite literally, with Hamas over control of Gaza – decided to hold back the 40% of its budget it has hitherto provided to the coastal strip. This means the PA has significantly reduced its payments to Israel for Gaza’s electricity, which translates into less electricity.

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While Israel’s security establishment reportedly backed the move as a way of pressuring Hamas, it is also very concerned about Gaza sinking into a humanitarian crisis and what that would likely cause. It is prevention of a humanitarian crisis in Gaza that led Israel to allow, under close supervision, the transfer of goods and materials into Gaza since Operation Protective Edge in 2014.

Although this is an internal Palestinian battle, there is concern in Jerusalem that – as was the case in 2014 – Hamas might respond by restoring to its default mode: attacking Israel.
Gaza power crisis

This puts Israel in a bind. On one hand, it does not want to get involved in the internal Palestinian battle between the PA and Hamas, although, if it does, it will side with the PA. On the other hand, if things get desperate in Gaza, Hamas’s fury is likely to be directed toward Israel more than at the PA.

Lashing out at Israel, however, is not the only possible Hamas response in trying to emerge from its latest predicament. It could also try to repair ties with Egypt, which could – if it wanted and did not view Hamas as a mortal enemy – pick up some of the slack and provide the region with electricity.

Indeed, over the last few weeks, there have been consistent reports of a stronger channel between Hamas and Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s Egypt. That option, obviously, would be preferable to Israel because Jerusalem has common interests and very strong security cooperation with Cairo.

The other option, much less preferable to Israel, would be for Hamas to turn to Iran for support.

Though they have huge ideological rifts – Hamas is Sunni, Iran is Shi’ite – they are bound by their common hatred toward Israel.

Although there have been reports in recent weeks of a strengthening of ties between Hamas and Iran, it is not yet at the point where Iran is replacing Qatar as Hamas’s chief backer.

The PA, interestingly enough, is the actor currently forcing the issue, which raises one important question: Why now? Why after years of fighting and feuding with Hamas did the Palestinian Authority choose to withhold funds and worsen Gaza’s already bad electricity situation now? There are a number of answers: One is that PA President Mahmoud Abbas is simply fed up with the Gaza-based terrorist organization; the futile efforts to establish a “national unity government” with Hamas; and his inability to regain control of what he hopes to be a large part of a future Palestinian state.

Another answer has to do with larger regional dynamics and the titanic struggle taking place in the region between four camps: Iran, the Muslim Brotherhood, Islamic State and the so-called Camp of Stability.

Hamas, despite its new ideological document that tried to distance itself from the Muslim Brotherhood, is smack in the middle of that camp. The Palestinian Authority has ambitions to be considered a part of the Camp of Stability, a camp that includes Saudi Arabia, the Persian Gulf states – with the exception of Qatar, Egypt and Jordan.

US President Donald Trump, much more than his predecessor Barack Obama, has made it clear that he is squarely behind the Camp of Stability, delivering a further blow to the weakening Muslim Brotherhood camp by isolating Qatar.

For Abbas, withholding funds from Hamas is a good way to send a message to the Trump administration – which is consistently talking about wanting to re-ignite a diplomatic process in the Middle East – that he is on the side of those fighting terrorists, not supporting them. Cutting off funds to the Gaza Strip is also apparently much easier for Abbas domestically than cutting off funds to terrorists sitting in Israel jails and their families.

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