Palestinian Authority readies new round of sanctions on Gaza as Egyptian mediation breaks down

The fraught relationship between Hamas and Fatah is set to face another obstacle, as Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas prepares to apply a new round of punitive measures on the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.

“The punitive actions are going to be financial only,” sources close to the PA told Mada Masr on condition of anonymity, stating that the sanctions will be “focused on administrative employees’ salaries” in Gaza. “But nothing is done yet, as the final decision is yet to be taken,” the sources added.

This decision to prepare new punitive measures comes after the Fatah delegation led by Azzam al-Ahmed, a Fatah Central Committee member, met with Egyptian intelligence officials in Cairo on Tuesday to be briefed on Hamas’ response to the proposal for reconciliation between the Gaza-based movement and the PA.

While the Fatah delegation met with Cairo representatives, Hamas political bureau leader Ismail Haniyeh took to the stage at a conference to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Hamas’s founding, insisting on the need to proceed with truce talks with Israel, regardless of where reconciliation talks stand.

This insistence seems to also have been made clear to the Fatah delegation in Cairo. Following the delegation’s visit, Ahmed issued a press statement criticizing Hamas’s response to reconciliation efforts. “They don’t want to end the division, as their responses to our reconciliation efforts have been negative,” he said.

The mood in the lead up to the delegation’s visit also appeared grim, as members of the PA’s executive board had recently told Abbas that he should have cut all ties with Gaza 12 years ago, when Hamas took control of Gaza, describing it as “the best way to end Palestinian division,” the sources told Mada Masr.

“Abbas knows Hamas refuses to proceed with reconciliation talks under Fatah’s conditions,” the PA sources explained, “which makes it hard to make any progress in the matter.”

While there have been recent reconciliation proposals presented to the two sides, Fatah is demanding that Hamas fully execute the 2011 Cairo agreement. The parameters of current reconciliation deal are outlined in an Egypt-sponsored proposal, which builds on the 2011 agreement but also addresses control over income sources and taxation, aspects not outlined in the 2011 talks.

Gaza factions voiced their opposition to this Egyptian proposal, however.

“The PA feels that at some point, Hamas will have to act on a higher level,” sources close to the PA told Mada Masr. “It’s already dangerous for both Hamas and Fatah, and the ‘deal of century’ may hurt both parties equally,” the source added, referring to the United States’ proposal.

According to sources that spoke to Mada Masr in June, the “century deal” stands to include the construction of a joint port between Egyptian and Palestinian cities of Rafah as a prelude to extensive economic activity. North Sinai would serve as a hub to plans including five principal projects funded by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, with a labor force that would be two-thirds Palestinian from the Gaza Strip and one-third Egyptian.

Some Hamas members, however, previously told Mada Masr that a separation from the West Bank under the terms of the US-brokered “century deal” may free Gaza from the powerful economic control of the PA.

News of the potential sanctions comes as Abbas plans to speak in front of the United Nations General Assembly on September 28, where he will address settlements in the West Bank, Israel’s nation-state law, Palestinian membership in the UN and the US decision to cut funding to UNRWA, as well as push to remove the US from the negotiation table, according to sources close to Abbas.

“President Abbas will be embarrassed if he goes to the general assembly meeting with no answer to the Palestinian division,” a source close to the PA said.

The issue of reconciliation and administrative control over Gaza has long been a contentious issue. Abbas imposed sanctions on Gaza in April 2017, the lifting of which was contingent on Hamas dissolving the Gaza administrative committee and ceding administrative control to the national unity government.

The Gaza administrative committee had taken on the task of managing the governance of Gaza’s security, education, health, social development, financial development and economy in March 2017. It was formed as an alternative to the 2014 national unity government, which was unable to take over due to disputes between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority over the details of the reconciliation.

Although Hamas complied with the PA’s demands, disbanding the administrative committee in September 2017 after Egyptian mediation, the sanctions remain in effect. Hamas has accused the PA of attempting to punish Gazans through the sanctions, which include decreasing electricity subsidies, reducing employee salaries and constricting the entry of medicine into Gaza.

Ahmad Shehada 

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