190317 gaza
Gaza residents burn tyres on Saturday as they protest tax hikes introduced by Hamas. Image Credit: Twitter

The decade-long Palestinian split looks set to deepen in the coming months, with President Mahmoud Abbas poised to take multiple measures against Gaza to squeeze its rulers, Hamas.

The moves raises concerns of more suffering for Gaza’s two million residents, already burdened by an Israeli blockade and facing severe electricity shortages.

A cornered Hamas could also renew violence against Israel.

Analysts say the measures will also widen the gap between Hamas-run Gaza and the occupied West Bank, where Abbas’ government has limited self-rule.

Hamas and Abbas’ secular Fatah party have been at loggerheads since the former seized control of Gaza from Abbas’ forces in a near civil war in 2007, a year after sweeping parliamentary elections. Israel has launched three bloody wars on Gaza since 2008 and fears of a fourth linger.

Reconciliation fails

Multiple reconciliation attempts between the Palestinian factions have failed but Egypt thought it had made a breakthrough in late 2017 when the two sides agreed to eventually share power.

As part of that agreement Hamas withdrew from border crossings between Gaza and Egypt and Israel, allowing the Fatah-dominated Palestinian National Authority (PNA) to return and the Egyptian border to be reopened regularly. The reconciliation agreement has since collapsed acrimoniously. In January, the PNA announced that it would withdraw from the Egyptian border crossing, creating a dilemma for Cairo about whether to leave it open with Hamas in control.

Punitive measures

Senior officials close to President Abbas say he is looking for other measures to punish Hamas.

Among these could be the removal staff from crossings between Israel and Gaza — making it hard for the Jewish state to allow anything into the territory without dealing directly with Hamas, which it and many other countries label a terrorist organisation.

They could also include cutting salaries to families of Hamas prisoners or rescinding Palestinian passports held by Hamas employees.

Abbas has also pledged to dissolve the Hamas-dominated Palestinian parliament, which — despite not meeting since the 2007 split — is still nominally the basis for new laws.

“Very important decisions against Hamas are being discussed,” a senior official said on condition of anonymity.

It follows a series of arrests of individuals affiliated with Fatah in Gaza, according to Abbas’ allies.

The official said the PNA spent around $100 million (Dh367.3 million) per month in Gaza, including for electricity subsidies, and was looking to cut back significantly.

“Those that want to rule Gaza must bear the responsibility of governing it,” the official said.

Stark challenges

Palestinians have faced stark challenges over the past two years, with US President Donald Trump leading what he has called the most pro-Israel administration in America’s history.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing government has meanwhile continued to expand colonies in the West Bank.

Abbas’ government froze contacts with the Trump administration after it recognised occupied Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December 2017.

The deepening split between the two factions weakens their ability to respond to such pressure, said Hugh Lovatt of the European Council on Foreign Relations think tank.

He said the PNA withdrawal from the border crossings was part of a “package of measures designed to try and squeeze Hamas.”