The Palestinian Authority said it would slash its budget for Gaza by 30 percent, unless Hamas gives up its control of the Strip and hands it back to the PA. The threat was published in the PA Al-Hayat daily. In response, a Hamas official told the newspaper that while it was interested in “national cooperation” with the PA, “we will not be intimidated by the demands of the Authority.”
Hamas has been in control of Gaza for over a decade, essentially banning the Fatah-controlled PA government headed by Mahmoud Abbas to Ramallah and several other cities in Yehudah and Shomron. Abbas and Fatah have for years been seeking to return to Gaza, either replacing Hamas or in partnership with it, but all efforts so far have failed.
Meanwhile, Ramallah has been paying the lion’s share of Gaza’s bills, and recent reports in the Arab media say that Abbas has had enough, and that he plans to use the power of the purse to change matters. A senior PA official quoted by Haaretz said that the Authority was likely to hold off on payments for education and medical care, although it would continue paying the salaries of government workers, who are still officially PA employees. Even so, the planned cuts could affect the salaries of some 100,000 people.
“I realize that cutting medical and education services appears to be cruel, but Hamas must decide. If it wants to control Gaza, that control must be total,” the official told Haaretz. “Either it takes responsibility for the budget and day-to-day expenses, or it lets the Palestinian government govern.” Hamas collects heavy taxes from Gaza residents, but all that money goes to the organization. By cutting payments, Hamas will have to use some of its money to support Gazans, the official said.
According to Arab media reports, Abbas does not plan to stop his campaign, and has been in touch with Arab and Muslim countries, including Hamas-friendly countries like Turkey and Qatar, and has asked them to back his efforts. While PA sources said that it was unlikely these governments would turn their back on Hamas, they may decide that they should take Abbas’s side – lest Hamas come to them looking for money to replace the funds “lost” by not fulfilling the PA chief’s demands.