Why Hamas Can’t Be Punished

A tunnel in the Gaza Strip

The government of Israel voted Sunday to reduce the amount of electricity it supplies the Gaza Strip by 35 percent. It wasn’t, strictly speaking, a punitive move, but one dictated by economics.

Israel deducts the cost of this electricity from taxes it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority, and PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas ordered it to deduct 35 percent less. Obviously, 35 percent less payment translates into 35 percent less electricity.

But of course it’s not that simple. Even before the cut, Gazans were getting an estimated six hours a day of electricity. That’s because the ruling power, Hamas, refused to purchase fuel from the Palestinian Authority, forcing the enclave’s only power plant to shut down.

You can’t blame Abbas for taking a tough line against Hamas. He’s fed up with the terror organization’s collecting some NIS 100 million a month from Gaza residents — in taxes and payments for goods, including electricity — and using it on terror tunnels instead of turning it over to the Authority for vital needs.

“We are not going to continue financing the Hamas coup in Gaza,” Hussein al-Sheikh, head of the PA’s Civil Affairs Department, told the Voice of Palestine radio station in May. He was referring to the fact that Hamas tossed the Palestinian Authority out of Gaza in a military coup in 2007.

If Gaza were a democracy and Hamas had to worry about elections, the pressure applied by the Palestinian Authority and Israel, as the direct supplier of electricity, would have the desired effect. The people — facing a long, hot summer with a dwindling number of hours of electricity and insufficient water (Gaza relies on desalinated water which requires a lot of electric power) — would throw the bums out at the next opportunity, electing leaders who put the needs of the voters ahead of the needs of the corrupt leadership and their obsession with scoring a military victory against Israel, no matter what the cost.

But it’s not a democracy, and Hamas is free to act as it pleases, in the knowledge that it can’t be replaced by anything less than an Israeli invasion or a popular uprising at home, both unlikely scenarios.

The problem is that Hamas may be secure, no matter how bad things get, but Israel isn’t. Top Israeli generals, including the chief of staff and the head of military intelligence, briefed the security cabinet this week and warned of a serious deterioration of the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip — especially if Qatar caves in to the pressure being applied by the Gulf states, and agrees to stop sending hundreds of millions of shekels a year to Hamas, both for civilian infrastructure and for terrorism.

According to the briefing, Abbas has no intention of backing down, no matter how bad the humanitarian crisis gets in Gaza. Egypt, likewise, has no intention of intervening with aid. That leaves Israel. And the question is who blinks first. Does Hamas relent in the face of the humanitarian crisis, or does Israel decide to restore electricity and other basic needs to prevent the pressure cooker called Gaza from erupting?

Hamas, because of its utter disregard for the welfare of its citizenry, has the upper hand. It is signaling that it will not capitulate, but instead will channel the suffering and despair into rage against Israel.

“The decision of the occupation to reduce the electricity to Gaza at the request of PA President Mahmoud Abbas is catastrophic and dangerous. It will accelerate the deterioration and explode the situation in the Strip,” said Hamas spokesperson Abdel Latif al-Qanua. “Those who will bear the consequences of this decision are the Israeli enemy, who is besieging the Gaza Strip, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.”

Those who propagated the disastrous “disengagement” from Gaza were confident that their deterrent capabilities would force the leadership to act responsibly. What they failed to take into account, however, is that dictatorial regimes are immune to such pressures.

Hamas not only doesn’t act to protect the populace, but puts it in harm’s way, hiding munitions stores and military headquarters in crowded residential neighborhoods.

The Israeli government miscalculated in 2005 in the Gaza disengagement; it dare not make the same mistake in 2017 with Yehudah and Shomron. It cannot risk another Palestinian Arab terror state, a stone’s throw from Tel Aviv, in the hope that the leadership will act in the best interest of the people.

For starters, it’s far from certain that Abbas’ Fatah faction would retain control of the Palestinian Authority. Even if it does, it hasn’t faced elections in years and doesn’t have to worry about public opinion.

Until the Palestinian Arabs show they can run a country in a responsible, transparent way, as President Donald Trump has demanded, and until it learns the basics of democracy, any thought of two states should be shelved.