(March 22, 2018 / Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs) Anger is rising among the residents of the Gaza Strip following a March 19 speech given by Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas. In it, he announced that he would adopt new sanctions against Gaza following an attempt on the life of Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah.
Abbas did not give details of the exact measures that he intends to take, but instead vaguely stated that these would be “national, constitutional and legal steps.”
On March 21, a senior source in the P.A. informed the Al-Khaleej Online website that the new sanctions would come into force at the beginning of April at the latest, and the situation in Gaza will become even more dangerous.
Abbas intends to paralyze daily life and increase the level of poverty in the Gaza Strip. According to this source, the sanctions will include the following measures:
- Importation of food and merchandise into Gaza will be prohibited.
- Restrictions will be imposed on exports and imports.
- High taxes will be imposed on tradesmen to put a stop to their activities.
- Government employees will face a further wage decrease. Instead of the current 30 percent, wages will be slashed by 50 percent.
- Loans will no longer be given.
- Welfare payments to 70,000 families in Gaza will be stopped.
- Medical care will be cut.
- Power will be reduced, and there will be no more payments to the Israeli Mekorot water company for Gaza’s water supply.
- Bank accounts belonging to Palestinian officials, companies and institutions will be closed.
Will the Gaza Strip be declared a ‘rebel zone’?
According to senior Fatah officials, Abbas is seriously considering a contingency plan that has lain dormant for the past six years to declare Gaza a “rebel zone.”
Apart from the steps mentioned above, he is thinking about taking additional steps if he does indeed officially declare Gaza a “rebel zone.” These are:
- Freezing funds in Palestinian and Arab banks belonging to Hamas and its institutions.
- Requiring financial institutions and banks operating in Gaza to leave immediately.
- Declaring a state of emergency in the West Bank as a result of Gaza being declared a “rebel zone.”
- Seeking a resolution in the upper constitutional court to dissolve Parliament, creating a parliamentary vacuum and removing immunity from Parliament members.
- Closing Hamas institutions and confiscating Hamas property in the West Bank, and arresting the movement’s activists.
- Organizing mass demonstrations of Fatah activists to shake up the Hamas government in Gaza.
Hamas has managed to rally all of the Palestinian factions in Gaza to lend their support and oppose Abbas’s newest measures.
When will the sanctions begin?
Abbas will soon impose the new sanctions. The Al-Hayat newspaper reported on March 21 that Egyptian President Al-Sisi spoke by phone with Abbas and asked him to wait another week before taking the new measures.
Abbas explained that the P.A. wants to receive all of the official powers held by Hamas in Gaza immediately.
Gaza is a pressure cooker that is about to explode at any moment. Abbas intends to fasten down the lid, but that won’t prevent the explosion.
The Hamas leadership reckons that the explosion will occur very soon. Khalil al-Hayya, a member of Hamas’s political bureau, informed the Turkish news agency on March 21 that “the continuation of the siege will lead to an explosion. We will direct that explosion toward Israel.”
If Abbas puts his new plan into action, he will create new political realities for the Palestinians and worsen their already precarious situation.
Egypt is furious with Abbas because of his Gaza policy, but it is being cautious to avoid a confrontation or to let him down towards the end of his life.
At the moment, it appears that only harsh, determined measures from the international community towards the P.A. could stop Abbas from imposing the sanctions.
The P.A. leader continues to follow a policy of “brinksmanship” towards Gaza in order to bring Hamas completely to its knees. However, in Gaza, Hamas leaders say that Abbas is delusional, that it won’t happen, and that everything will boomerang against him.
Yoni Ben Menachem, a veteran Arab affairs and diplomatic commentator for Israel Radio and Television, is a senior Middle East analyst for the Jerusalem Center. He served as Director General and Chief Editor of the Israel Broadcasting Authority.
This article originally appeared on the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs website.