Of the demands Palestinians often make of their leaders, reconciliation between their two largest political factions perennially tops the list. Fatah, which controls the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank, and the Islamist terror group Hamas, which wrested control of the Gaza Strip in a civil war in 2007, have waged a low-intensity conflict for over a decade. Between flare-ups, the two have often responded to the will of their people by announcing various unity agreements. None of these agreements have led to actual national harmony, and Sunday’s surprise announcement that Hamas had dissolved its administrative committee in Gaza and agreed to reconciliation is unlikely to defy the precedent.
For one, this is less about unity and more about finances. In March, Hamas announced the formation of the administrative committee, a quasi-governmental body that would ostensibly assume more functions of a state. Fatah leaders reacted with outrage, accusing Hamas of forming a shadow government that would “perpetuate the division instead of promoting reconciliation.”
Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of Fatah and the president of the PA, responded with an unprecedented show of force. He cut off payments for electricity to the Gaza Strip, effectively plunging the impoverished coastal enclave into darkness. (Hamas refuses to interact with Israel, so the PA has subsidized parts of Gaza’s electricity input since 2007.) Abbas also slashed the salaries of his out-of-work PA employees in Gaza, cut payments for Hamas prisoners in Israeli jails, reduced medical-supply shipments, and announced that over 6,000 PA workers would be forced into early retirement. These wide-ranging sanctions were the toughest Abbas had ever levied against Hamas, let alone his own people.