The crises and divisions in the internal Palestinian scene continued during 2014 and 2015. Despite the brutal Israeli assault on Gaza Strip (GS) in the summer of 2014, and the huge destruction and devastation it wrought, and despite the progress achieved by internal reconciliation efforts in Palestine with the formation of the National Consensus Government in early June 2014, the political, geographic, and administrative division continued to dominate the landscape without any real change.
The government did not extend its control over GS, or the government institutions and administrative structures there. Border crossings and civil servants in GS became the main points of contention in the ongoing crisis between Hamas and Fatah and the national accord government on the other. Meanwhile, the suffering of the GS people continued, as a result of the ongoing blockade and the failure of the new government to deliver services.
In 2014 and 2015, security coordination between security forces in Ramallah and their Israeli counterparts continued, despite the impasse in the negotiations and the eruption of the Jerusalem Intifadah (uprising), and despite decisions issued by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Central Council (PCC) calling for an end to security coordination with Israel. Frustration among Palestinians grew, meanwhile, as the reconstruction of GS stalled, because donor countries failed to fulfil their financial pledges.
First: The Governments of Ramallah and GS
The Palestinian Authority (PA) government in Ramallah, headed by Rami Hamdallah, continued with its functions in the first five months of 2014. At the political level, the government adhered to the framework set by Hamdallah when he was sworn in; at the time, he said his government was the government of President ‘Abbas and was committed to the PLO program.
Despite Palestinian calls for neutrality over the incidents in Egypt following the military coup of 3/7/2013, the Palestinian Minister of Labor Ahmad al-Majdalani soon proclaimed that toppling “political Islam” was a help to the Palestinian issue. Although his views did not necessarily reflect those of the government, the statement exacerbated the polarization and sent a negative message to Palestinian Islamist movements led by Hamas and Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine (PIJ).
Hamdallah, upon taking his constitutional oath before President Mahmud ‘Abbas on 6/6/2013, said the government would pay close attention to resisting Israeli settlement activity and supporting Palestinian farmers on their lands. Hamdallah said the main obstacle to economic growth was the occupation, which he said must end. However, his government’s actions were limited to such statements regarding resisting settlements, defending Jerusalem, and defending al-Aqsa Mosque against Judaization and raids by settlers. The Palestinian government praised the residents of the Qasra village in the northern West Bank (WB), who detained 10 settler attackers in January 2014 before they were handed over to the Israeli army, saying this was an act of self-defense. However, an anti-settler government and community safety network that Hamdallah promised to establish on 17/1/2014 in order to defend Palestinian villages, did not materialize.
Regarding the issue of Palestinian prisoners and liberated prisoners, the government reaffirmed its commitment to implementing the amended Prisoners and Liberated Prisoners Law of 2014, and to do everything required to ensure a decent life for them. However, the commission following up prisoners and detainees’ emanating from the factional coordination committee in Nablus said that there was deliberate prevarication by the government in implementing this commitment.
The Hamdallah government fulfilled a part of its commitments vis-à-vis GS, resuming the payment of salaries to civil servants that the Ramallah government recognizes (most of whom had previously been absconders at the request of Ramallah). This accounted for nearly 69% of expenditures on GS. The government also paid the bills for a number of services. It dispatched a convoy carrying medicines, laboratory items, and medical equipment and supplies to GS. Hamdallah, addressing the people of GS, said: “You are not alone in facing the blockade and its repercussions. We are with you and our whole people are behind you.”
Among the challenges faced by the Hamdallah government was corruption in government institutions. A 2014 report on corruption issued by Transparency Palestine, underscored the lack of transparency in the PA revenues, the collection of which is overseen by Israel. Israel is accused of protecting corrupt individuals. Furthermore, the high cost of healthcare was squandering the health budget. Another challenge was the continued abuse of using government vehicles and public funds, in light of weak oversight and accountability in the General Directorate of Permits, all as the wages given to officials in non-ministerial official institutions and bodies continued to rise.
Despite al-Shati’ Agreement signed on 23/4/2014, in which Hamas and Fatah agreed to form a National Consensus Government replacing the two governments of Ramallah and GS, in May 2014 the government stopped the distribution of the Felesteen daily newspaper affiliated to Hamas. This was despite an agreement had been reached between Fatah and Hamas to allow newspapers from GS and the WB to be distributed in both regions.
The Ramallah government resigned in April 2014 following the al-Shati’ Agreement, but continued to serve until 2/6/2014, when the National Consensus Government was sworn in before the PA President Mahmud ‘Abbas.
For its part, the caretaker government in GS headed by Isma‘il Haniyyah of Hamas continued serving until such time as the National Consensus Government took over, too. During that period, the Haniyyah government faced immense challenges on two levels: the crippling blockade on GS, which severely exacerbated the suffering of its residents; and the continuation of political and security tensions between the Haniyyah government and the Egyptian authorities.
The government took over after Isma‘il Haniyyah declared the beginning of Palestinian reconciliation, and announced a series of decisions to push reconciliation forward, which was welcomed by President ‘Abbas and Fatah. Haniyyah announced 120 cadres of Fatah would be returning to GS as part of a goodwill gesture towards the implementation of reconciliation, stressing that the government and Hamas had provided positive initiatives to push forward the reconciliation. Haniyyah took further steps towards reconciliation on 23/3/2014 when he presented a road map for ending the division on the basis of partnership and armed resistance.
Following the signing of the al-Shati’ Agreement on 23/4/2014, a wave of optimism prevailed in the ranks of Haniyyah’s government regarding the formation of a consensus government capable of ending the suffering of the GS people and resolve the Strip’s major crisis, amid assurances it would not abandon its core political principles. Haniyyah appeared more optimistic when he said that an agreement had been reached to create a national fund to compensate the victims of the division worth of $ 60 million.
In the midst of the efforts to form the National Consensus Government, Haniyyah stressed that Hamas was handing over power voluntarily for the sake of the people and their unity. However, on a second occasion, he said that Hamas’s exit from the government did not mean leaving power. Haniyyah’s government said it was ready to abide by the commitments of reconciliation and hand over all tasks to the National Consensus Government. When its ministers were being sworn in, Haniyyah stressed that Hamas and his previous government had done everything they could to end the division, and expressed full readiness to cooperate with the new government.
At the same time, Haniyyah’s government made significant efforts to support the resistance. Haniyyah said, in an event organized by the Ministry of Interior in GS, that his government would not abandon its responsibility to protect the “back of the resistance.” He stressed that the Interior Ministry forces constituted the solid nucleus of a security structure that extended over all the Palestinian land occupied in 1967. On 10/3/2014, Haniyyah reiterated his government’s position on the resistance, confirming that it was a red line that could be waived, and that its weapons were aimed at Israel only. On another occasion, Haniyyah stressed that the capture of Israeli soldiers was at the top of the agenda of Hamas and the Palestinian resistance, stressing that the liberation of Palestinians prisoners could only be achieved by capturing Israeli soldiers.
Haniyyah’s government maintained its ability to control the internal security situation in the Strip. Following the signing of al-Shati’ Agreement, Haniyyah warned that reconciliation did not mean the return to security chaos again, stressing that an Arab committee would oversee the rebuilding of the security forces in accordance with the reconciliation agreement.
On more than one occasion, Haniyyah and security officials stressed that they were keen on preserving Egypt’s security and good relations with Cairo, despite the smear campaigns led by some sections of the Egyptian media against Hamas and the people of the Strip, following the coup against President Muhammad Morsi. At a time when the relationship between the Egyptian authorities and Hamas had taken a sharp turn, and especially in light of the decision to ban Hamas and indict some of its commanders, some of whom were dead, the government dealt with this quietly, denying any interference in internal Egyptian affairs.
 This study is the approved English translation of chapter one of the book entitled: The Palestinian Strategic Report 2014–2015, edited by Prof. Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh. Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations in Beirut released the Arabic version in 2016. The first draft of this chapter was written by Mr. Mu’min Bsiso.
Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations, 13/6/2016