Related Quarterly Updates

The main intra-Palestinian event of the quarter was the announcement that Fatah and Hamas had agreed to form a unity government and take serious steps to reintegrate West Bank and Gaza institutions and end their divide. The reconciliation agreement altered but did not derail plans already in the works to hold Palestinian elections. As the quarter opened, Palestinians in the territories, particularly college-age youths, were increasingly spurred to action by the failed peace process, the leak of the “Palestine Papers” showing the willingness of the Fatah-led negotiating team to make concessions under Israeli and U.S. pressure (see Quarterly Update in JPS 159), and the inspiration of the antigovernment demonstrations across the region.


PA Elections

Last quarter, when Abbas announced plans to hold municipal elections beginning in 7/2011 and legislative and presidential elections in 9/2011, the Hamas authorities quickly stated that Gaza would not participate on the grounds that elections could not legitimately be held before national reconciliation had been achieved (see Quarterly Update in JPS 159). On 2/17, Abbas declared that municipal elections in the West Bank would proceed as planned, but that presidential and legislative elections would be postponed as long as Hamas refused to participate. On 3/8, the date was set to hold the first round of municipal elections on 7/9/11. To this end, the Central Elections Committee (CEC) held (3/8–15) a week-long West Bank voter registration drive. Hamas officials in Gaza barred the CEC from opening its offices there.

The election timetable was affected by the Fatah-Hamas unity deal announced on 4/27 (see “National Reconciliation” below), under which the factions agreed to hold legislative and presidential elections within a year (likely after 10/2011) in both the West Bank and Gaza, with Hamas participation. It was unclear whether municipal elections in the West Bank would go on as planned or if Hamas would allow local elections in Gaza in light of the unity deal.


National Reconciliation

As the quarter opened, popular calls for national reconciliation were on the rise. By 2/16, a “youth manifesto” equally contemptuous of Fatah and Hamas that had been launched on Facebook sometime last quarter by a small group of Gazan students began to make news when its online supporters reached 20,000. On 2/17, some 1,000 college-age Palestinians rallied in Ramallah to urge national unity and reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas. More than 80 Palestinian nonprofit organizations from the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem issued (2/21) a statement urging Fatah and Hamas to “take practical steps toward ending the[ir] disagreement.” On 2/24, up to 1,500 Palestinians rallied in Ramallah in support of national unity and an end to the Fatah-Hamas divide, which they warned “opens the door for the occupiers to do whatever they want.” Hamas authorities in Gaza banned a similar rally that was to be held in Gaza City. At the rallies, Palestinians made a point of showing only the Palestinian flag rather than factional flags—a rare gesture in recent years.

On 2/20, amid the popular calls, acting PM Fayyad (still in the process of forming a new government) declared that the Fatah-Hamas split had “gone on too long and should not continue.” He proposed forming an interim national unity government with Hamas, suggesting the PA would not interfere with Hamas’s rule in Gaza in the run-up to elections if Hamas agreed to take part in presidential and legislative elections in 9/2011. The proposal apparently (see al-Sharq al-Awsat 2/27, NYT 4/21) was Fayyad’s personal initiative, not approved by Fatah, and was driven by his strong belief that the Palestinians could not make a credible bid for statehood at the UN in 9/2011 if the PA did not have at least a temporary government that was broadly representative. In previous talks, Fatah had demanded that Hamas agree to cede political and security control of Gaza as the basis of reconciliation talks.

Elements within Fatah quickly pushed back. Later on 2/20, Fatah senior official Azzam al-Ahmad “clarified” Fayyad’s announcement, saying that Fatah was willing to reopen national unity talks with Hamas “so that the [2009] Egyptian document”—a draft national unity accord that Hamas had repeatedly rejected (see Quarterly Updates in JPS 154 and 158) —“can be signed.” On this basis, Hamas said (2/21) that the initiative “lacked seriousness and credibility.” Fayyad stood firm, however, and reiterated (2/23) his offer, adding that if the U.S. followed through on long-standing threats to suspend aid to Abbas’s PA if Hamas joined the government, the PA was willing to forgo further U.S. aid for the sake of national unity. Abbas and a number of Hamas leaders quickly endorsed (2/23, 2/24) further discussion of Fayyad’s plan. On that basis, Fatah and Hamas officials opened talks on 2/24 regarding the formation of an interim national unity government headed by Fayyad and that would include members from both factions and independents, with the understanding that Hamas would continue to rule Gaza up until elections provided it refrained from violence.

Still, not everyone within Fatah was on board. Fatah Revolutionary Council (FRC) secy.-gen. Amin Maqboul stated (ca. 2/26) that Fayyad’s initiative was “unreasonable and unacceptable” and a “private” plan that ran counter to Fatah policy in that it envisioned establishing a unity government with Hamas before their dispute was solved, and because it would keep Gaza security in Hamas’s hands. On 2/27, the full FRC issued a set of standards that Fayyad should observe in picking the interim unity cabinet, even though the FRC legally had no authority over the PA PM or the cabinet formation process. Shortly afterward, leading FRC members sent (3/3) a letter to Abbas urging him to “reconsider reappointing Fayyad and [instead] ask that a strong Fatah figure do the job.” Elements of Hamas were also skeptical: An aide to Hamas’s acting PM Ismail Haniyeh warned (3/1) that Fayyad’s unity plan would be “born dead . . . without the reform of the PLO and the Palestinian National Council” and called on the PLO factions to start the reform immediately.

On 3/6, Fayyad for the first time publicly argued the case for supporting his plan, stating that the fault of reconciliation plans to date was that they expected reconciliation first and establishment of a unity government after, whereas he believed that a unity government could be the forum for discussing reconciliation. Stiff reprimands again followed (3/6) from Fatah senior officials, including FCC member Mahmud al-Alul who declared that it was “premature . . . [to] talk about such initiatives before we resolve the elections issue” and the FRC’s Hatem ‘Abd al-Qader who said Fayyad had “no right to present political initiatives whether internal or external because he is just an employee who is charged with managing the services offered to the residents, no more no less.” With the matter unresolved, Fayyad on 3/7 requested another 2 wks. to form a government.

On 3/9, Hamas authorities in Gaza invited the factions to a meeting to present a counterproposal to Fayyad’s initiative, but the effort was scuttled when Fatah and 4 other key factions did not attend. Hamas officials then made their offer publicly, proposing the creation of a unified leadership to handle Palestinian affairs until the PLO was restructured to include Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Fatah did not acknowledge the proposal.

Meanwhile, popular frustration over the impasse was growing, unsettling Hamas authorities in Gaza and Fatah authorities in the West Bank, which each viewed any protest in its territory as a measure of support for its opponent and quickly clamped down on them accordingly (see Chronology for details). By 3/11, Palestinian youth groups organizing online declared a rally day on 3/15 to call for national unity, reconciliation, and “full democratic representation of all Palestinians all over the world.” A day ahead of the demonstrations (3/14), at least 3,000 young Palestinians turned out in Gaza City for a unity rally. On 3/15, 1,000s of Palestinians turned out across the West Bank and Gaza for candlelight vigils calling for unity. Hamas security forces violently dispersed the biggest rally (as many as 100,000) in Gaza City, injuring 5 protesters. In the West Bank, the PASF fired tear gas at some 8,000 protesters in Ramallah, briefly dispersing them and injuring 20; but some protesters returned, vowing to stay in Ramallah’s Manara Square (as Egyptians did in Cairo’s Tahrir Square) and observe a hunger strike until the West Bank and Gaza were reunited. (The sit-in lasted until 4/17 when the PA made confidence-building gestures to Hamas; see below.) Meanwhile, the PLO’s Washington mission issued a statement reprimanding these “few fringe elements within our civil society,” urging them to stand down and “collaborate with us.” From Gaza, Hamas’s Haniyeh invited Abbas to Gaza for reconciliation talks, saying Fatah and Hamas should heed the calls to set aside their differences and begin the process of reconciliation.

While Fatah spokesman Ahmed Assaf immediately rejected (3/15) Haniyeh’s offer as “not serious,” Abbas publicly stated (3/16) that he would be “ready to go to Gaza tomorrow to end the split and form a new government.” From this stage, Abbas seemed to take over the reconciliation initiative from Fayyad and to rein in the critical Fatah elements, making it an official Fatah/PA effort. This prompted Netanyahu to state (3/17) in an interview with CNN that he did not see how the PA could be “for peace with Israel and peace with Hamas that calls for our destruction” and alluded to long-standing warnings that Israel would not deal with the PA if it included Hamas. On 3/20, a Fatah delegation led by Azzam al-Ahmad went to Cairo to brief Arab League Secy.-Gen. Amr Moussa and Egyptian officials who had long mediated the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation talks. A Hamas delegation traveled to Cairo soon after. On 3/22 (the end of his 2-wk. extension), Fayyad announced he was suspending his efforts to form a new cabinet while Abbas pursued the effort to form an interim unity government with Hamas. Abbas then met (3/26) with 7 West Bank Hamas officials in Ramallah to discuss a possible trip to Gaza to meet with Haniyeh for the first time since Hamas seized control of the Strip in 6/2007. Abbas at this point proposed creating a temporary unity government with 2 mandates only: (1) organizing legislative and presidential elections within 6 mos., and (2) fast-tracking the reconstruction of Gaza. Officials on both sides said the talks were positive and that Abbas’s proposals would be conveyed to Hamas’s Gaza leadership. Local Fatah officials in Gaza met with Hamas’s acting FM Mahmud Zahar on 4/3.

Abbas then went (4/6–7) to Cairo to personally brief the Egyptians. Days later (on 4/10), the independent group Palestine Forum led by Nablus businessman Munib al-Masri sent a delegation of independent Palestinians (7 each from the West Bank and Gaza) to Cairo to present a draft reconciliation agreement to Egypt. Egyptian mediators along with Turkey’s FM Ahmet Davutoğlu, who was visiting Cairo at the time, agreed to support the document and urged the Forum to persuade Fatah and Hamas. Abbas and Damascusbased Hamas leader Khalid Mishal, as well as Syrian officials, said the draft was worth exploring. From this point, reconciliation talks were kept strictly confidential but apparently were intensive, involving a secret trip by Abbas to Syria (ca. 4/25) to meet with Damascus-based Hamas leader Khalid Mishal (see Independent 6/9). As talks progressed, the PA released (4/17) 11 Hamas prisoners and ordered to end the media incitement against the movement as an apparent confidence-building gesture.

On 4/27, Fatah and Hamas announced an (unsigned) agreement pledging the formation of a transitional national unity government chosen by consensus that would focus solely on: (1) planning for legislative and presidential elections within a year (including agreeing on new members for the CEC); (2) rebuilding Gaza; and (3) reintegrating West Bank and Gaza institutions. The sides also agreed to work for elections for the Palestinian National Council (the decision-making body of the PLO) that apparently would include Hamas and to form a joint security committee to discuss unifying security forces. Both Hamas and Fatah stressed that negotiations with Israel would remain the purview solely of the PLO. Sources said (Ma’an News Agency 5/11) that the sides had basically adopted the 2009 Egyptian document that Hamas previously rejected, but included an additional “oversight document prepared in Damascus which would guide the implementation.”

Only a short text was publicly released outlining the points above (see Doc. B4). Various senior Hamas and Fatah officials stated (e.g., Hamas’s Zahar 4/27 in Reuters 4/27; Abbas 4/28 in AP 4/28; Mishal 5/4 in NYT 5/5, YA 5/7) that other important understandings had been reached that were not in this published text (but possibly were included in the unpublished side document), including: that the unity government would include only independent technocrats, that Hamas had explicitly accepted the goal of a state within the 1967 borders and effectively agreed to halt armed attacks on Israel (by agreeing to coordinate resistance with Fatah, which had renounced armed struggle), and that there would be a joint prisoner release. The agreement was initialed in Cairo by 15 small Palestinian factions on 5/3 and signed formally by Abbas and Mishal in Cairo on 5/4.

At the 5/4 ceremony, the signing was held behind closed doors and public statements were given afterward. Abbas initially first insisted that Mishal not be allowed to sit with him at the podium or speak to the audience during the public ceremony, arguing that the portrayal of himself and Mishal as political equals could have damaging consequences for the Palestinians. with the international community (e.g., fueling calls for aid to the PA to be cut). In the end, Mishal was allowed to give a brief statement after Abbas but agreed to sit with the other delegates. Abbas in his statement said that the Palestinians “affirm the commitment to signed agreements and the solution of two states along the 1967 borders” and “we reaffirm our principled position renouncing violence and emphatically condemning terror in all its forms,” but did not state explicitly that Hamas had signed on to these Quartet demands. (On 4/27, senior Hamas official Musa Abu Marzuq, who headed the Hamas delegation negotiating the deal, said that the Quartet demands were not part of the deal.) Mishal made reference to having “one authority and one decision” (a favorite phrase of Abbas) and the goal of establishing “a Palestinian state, independent and sovereign, on the lands of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with its capital, Jerusalem, without a single settler, without conceding a single inch, and without conceding the right of return.” He also said that Hamas would work with Fatah to guide Palestinian diplomacy and “resistance in all its forms.” After the signing, broadcasts resumed of PA-affiliated TV stations in Gaza and Hamas-affiliated stations in the West Bank. Overall, Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza reacted skeptically, taking a wait-and-see attitude. Some Gazans spontaneously celebrated in Gaza City on 5/4 and organized a small rally at al-Azhar University on 5/8, but only a small group of women rallied in Ramallah on 5/4; otherwise there was no public outpouring.

The day after the signing (5/5), Mishal reiterated that Hamas was “fully committed to working for a two-state solution,” but refused to say that such an agreement would constitute an end of claims, as Israel demanded and the PLO has indicated it would accept. He also refused to reject armed struggle, stating: “Where there is occupation and settlement, there is a right to resistance. Israel is the aggressor. But resistance is a means, not an end,” adding that as Hamas and Fatah work together in the coming year, “we are ready to reach an agreement on how to manage resistance.” On 5/11, Hamas’s Zahar clarified that Hamas would accept a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders but would not recognize Israel, because recognizing Israel would jeopardize the Palestinian right of return to areas in Israel. He also vowed to maintain the Gaza cease-fire but said a truce cannot equal peace.

Fatah officials said (5/8, 5/10) that Fatah and Hamas planned to hold their first meeting on implementing their unity deal on 5/16–17 with the aim of forming a unity government within 10 days. Some Fatah members, including Abbas, were reportedly (Ma‘an News Agency 5/10, 5/11) lobbying to keep Fayyad as PM since this would be more palatable to the international community, but at least 4 other candidates were also being considered: Munib al-Masri, the Palestine Forum head and dir. of PADICO investment company; Ziad Abu-Amr, an independent PC member (first elected in 1996) and former PA FM from Gaza City; Abed al-Karim Shubeir, former independent presidential candidate in the 2005 elections; and Jamal al-Khudari, a Gaza independent and former PC member (elected in 2006). Fatah and Hamas were also expected to begin releasing political prisoners within days, but this did not happen before the end of the quarter.


PA’s West Bank Rule

The PA did not take any major decisions affecting West Bank governance this quarter. As noted above, however, on 5/1, following the announcement of the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation, Israel delayed the monthly transfer of VAT taxes it collects on behalf of the PA ($90 m.), saying it feared the money would go to Hamas. (VAT taxes amount to around $1 b. annually, making up 70% of PA revenue and covering two-thirds of PA budget expenditures. Israel is required by the Oslo Accord to transfer the money without prejudice, though it has frequently suspended transfers to pressure the PA.) The U.S. said (ca. 5/1) that would it continue its assistance to the PA for now but would reassess as the unity process moves forward.

When the taxes had still not been transferred by 5/9, PM Fayyad stated that the PA did not have enough funds to cover recurring expenses and that instead of paying only part of civil servants’ salaries, he would suspend all salary payments until VAT taxes were released and then pay all back salaries owed—a decision that would affect 151,000 employees in the Palestinian public sector and some 100,000 people receiving monthly stipends from the PA (e.g., families of prisoners, welfare recipients). Alternatively, he called on Arab states to donate funds to cover salaries, but there was no immediate response. Instead, France said (5/10) it would donate ECU 10 m. (more than $14 m.), and the EU agreed (5/10) to advance the PA $121.9 m. to cover costs. Before the monies were received, Israel resumed VAT transfers on 5/15, saying Abbas had guaranteed that none of the money would be accessible to Hamas under the new Fatah-Hamas unity deal, but warning that it would reconsider suspending transfers if Hamas were allowed to join a PA government.

Of note: Human Rights Watch issued (4/6) a report stating that Palestinian journalists were routinely subjected to detention and abuse by the PASF for political reasons and that Palestinian journalists self-censor to avoid harassment. According to the report, conditions for journalists in Gaza were better than in the West Bank but had sharply declined recently amid the popular protests supporting national reconciliation.


Hamas in Gaza

As national unity talks were getting underway, Hamas’s acting PM Haniyeh reshuffled (3/10) his cabinet, changing his cabinet secretary and 6 ministers: religious affairs, economy, women affairs, prisoners, youths and sports, and planning. No other factions were invited to join the government and no reason was given for the shake-up. This marked Haniyeh’s 2d cabinet shuffle since Hamas took control of Gaza in 6/2007.

Hamas continued to face challenges from smaller radical factions. On 4/14, the radical Salafist group Tawhid and Jihad (TAJ) kidnapped Italian peace activist Vittorio Arrigoni in Gaza and threatened to kill him by 5:00 p.m. local time on 4/15 unless Hamas authorities released its imprisoned leaders Hisham Saidani and Shaykh Abu Wali al-Makdisi (arrested in 3/2011), other supporters, and “global jihadists.” Early in the morning of 4/15, Hamas authorities in Gaza stormed a house in Gaza City where they believed Arrigoni (who had been living in Gaza since 2008) was being held, only to find that he had already been hanged. Hamas authorities detained 10 suspects in raids on 4/15 and 4/17 (1 died in police custody on 4/19). In a raid on 4/19, a Jordanian suspect detonated a hand grenade to kill his 2 Palestinian accomplices (killing 1, wounding 1) before turning a gun on himself to prevent their arrested; 3 Hamas-affiliated policemen were also wounded. Another TAJ suspect died in Hamas police custody on 4/19. On 5/6, Hamas authorities broke up a demonstration in Gaza City by 10s of Salafists protesting the 5/1 U.S. assassination of Osama Bin Laden.

As noted, Hamas routinely dispersed national unity rallies in Gaza (see Chronology for details). In 1 incident on 3/16, Hamas-affiliated police fatally shot 1 Palestinian demonstrator when they violently dispersed a rally

There were also some signs that Hamas’s political wing was having trouble keeping its military wing, the Izzeddin al-Qassam Brigades (IQB), in line as crossborder tensions rose this quarter. Hamas held several meetings with the factions this quarter about halting rocket and mortar fire into Israel. Although Hamas announced several deals to reimpose the cease-fire (e.g., 3/26, 4/5, 4/10), it was violated repeatedly, even by the IQB.

On 3/19, a group of 10 armed, plainclothes Palestinians claiming to be Hamasaffiliated security forces raided the Gaza City bureaus of CNN, NHK news channel, and Reuters, attacking journalists, destroying cameras, and confiscating tapes to punish them for filming Hamas police dispersing a 3/17 Palestinian unity rally. Hamas Interior M Fathi Hammad denied that the men were connected to Hamas, and Reuters confirmed that the men did not show identification.

On 3/3, Hamas-affiliated police forced a Gaza bank to cash some $500,000 in stolen checks drawn against the Palestine Investment Fund (PIF) account, even though the account did not have that much money in it. Hamas’s Interior Min. confirmed (3/3) the incident, saying police were ordered to seize the money after PIF governors transferred funds out of Gaza to accounts in the West Bank. (The PIF was created in 2000 to manage PA commercial assets and privatized in 2006, when Abbas cut PA ties to the fund after Hamas’s 1/2006 election win fearing the assets would be used to benefit Hamas.) The Palestine Monetary Authority, which regulates Palestinian banks, closed all Gaza branches until 3/6 in protest.

A Gaza court sentenced (3/29) 1 Palestinian to death and another to 15 yrs. in prison for collaborating with Israel. Since 1994, 114 people were sentenced to death in the occupied territories; the last death sentences were handed down on 2/3/11 (see Quarterly Update in JPS 159). On 5/4, Hamas authorities executed a Palestinian convicted in 10/2009 of collaborating with Israel; Hamas authorities have executed 6 Palestinians since taking control of the Strip in 6/2007 (3 for collaboration, 3 for murder; of the 6, 2 had been sentenced to death by the Fatah-led PA prior to the 2007 takeover). The most recent executions prior to this were in 5/2010 (see Quarterly Update in JPS 157).


Security Coordination

While Israeli-PA security coordination continued to be strong this quarter, with no disruptions, sources close to the U.S. Security Coordinator’s mission confirmed that the IDF increasingly flexed its muscles as a warning to the PA in light of Israel’s concerns about the Arab Spring, Fatah-Hamas reconciliation, Abbas’s diplomatic efforts to garner recognition of a Palestinian state, and overall deterioration of the peace process. The message apparently was for Abbas to keep the PASF in line in the run-up to the 9/2011 UN meeting, out of some concern that the deterioration could lead to splits within the PASF.

In particular, the IDF was a bit more aggressive entering area A (under full PA security and civil control), including at least 13 instances (2/24, 3/3, 3/5, 3/10, 3/17, 3/21, 3/23, 3/27, 3/29, 4/3, 4/8, and 2 on 4/12) of making uncoordinated entries into Jericho to patrol and photograph the PA General Intelligence headquarters, several PASF buildings and training sites, and the Intercontinental Hotel. IDF entry into Jericho was highly symbolic. While the IDF enters area A with some regularity, Jericho—the first Palestinian town to which Israel transferred full PA control and a main PASF center—was normally considered off-limits to such incursions. (The IDF also photographed PA security sites, municipal buildings, and cultural heritage sites during patrols in ‘Aqabat Jabir r.c. on 2/23 and Dayr Istya village on 3/13; see Quarterly Updates in JPS 158 and 159 for similar incidents.)


After Qatar’s attempt to kick-start a Palestinian national reconciliation process stalled last quarter (see JPS 46 [1]), the PA decided to hold a round of municipal elections in 10/2016, the 1st since 2012. Given Hamas’s announcement in 7/2016 that it would participate in local elections, this would have been the 1st time Hamas and Fatah faced off at the ballot box since 2006 (see JPS 35 [3]). However, the major issues obstructing reconciliation also hindered the elections effort, leaving PA pres. Abbas to explore other ways of consolidating Fatah’s power. Once the ballot exercise was shelved, Abbas reached out to Hamas’s leadership in an apparent attempt to resume the reconciliation process and to ward off regional actors’ efforts to influence the power struggle anticipated following his retirement.

Despite the campaign season’s acrimony the previous quarter and through the 1st 2 weeks of the current 1, the vote was set for 10/8, and all signs indicated it would proceed as planned. On 8/15, 5 left-leaning parties announced they would run on a joint list called the Democratic Alliance. They included the PFLP (the largest of the 5), the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), the Palestinian People’s Party, the Democratic Union (FIDA), and the newly formed Palestinian National Initiative. The day before the deadline to submit nominations, the Central Election Commission (CEC) reported (8/24) “remarkable activity and heavy turnout from those running for election” throughout urban municipal areas, indicating a strong interest in the election process.

Hamas, for its part, was planning to support sympathetic or affiliated candidates in the West Bank, rather than running on a separate list. Former PLO legal advisor Diana Buttu described the move as a “win-win” for Hamas, since the party could claim a victory if its affiliated candidates did well and would avoid the sting of defeat if they lost.

But the election process hit some bumps in 8/2016 and into 9/2016. Although this was not the 1st time that Hamas and Fatah officials accused each other of obstructing their favored candidates, Hamas escalated the accusations, filing a formal complaint with the CEC on 8/30 that claimed Fatah violations, including “threats, summons, arrests, shootings, improvised explosive devices, and house raids.” Later that week, the CEC announced (9/4) that 163 objections had been filed against various candidates in the West Bank and Gaza, and that 7 had been disqualified, including 4 Fatah candidates in Gaza. Hamas-run courts disqualified 5 more Fatah candidates on 9/8, effectively removing Fatah from 9 of Gaza’s 25 races. The Palestinian Supreme Court put (9/8) a temporary freeze on the elections, delaying them through 12/21, on the grounds that “the [elections] must deal with the homeland as 1 unit, and with the faltering measures in Jerusalem and the procedural problems in Gaza,” postponement was in order. Pointing out that the court was made up of presidential appointees, and that Abbas had been pres. since 2005, Hamas denounced the decision and called the freeze “political.”

Through the end of 9/2016, the ballot exercise was further compromised and the temporary freeze began to look more like a full cancellation. Following a request from the public prosecutor’s office, the Supreme Court postponed (9/21) its final decision on the elections to 10/3. At the same time, the CEC confirmed that it had suspended all ballot preparations, pending the court’s decision. On 10/3, the court reversed its position on considering the Palestinian-held areas as 1 territory, ruling that the vote would proceed on 10/8 in the West Bank only, as it had in 2012, arguing that the Hamas-run judiciary operating in Gaza was “illegal.” Hamas again rejected the decision, with several of its officials alleging that the court was interfering to obviate a Fatah defeat. The CEC reaffirmed (10/3) its original position that holding the election in the West Bank alone would exacerbate Fatah-Hamas tensions and recommended postponing the election by 6 mos. After a meeting of the PA cabinet, PM Rami Hamdallah announced the govt. would follow the CEC’s recommendation and postpone the ballot, pushing it back a further 4 mos., to 2/2017. In the meantime, the PA announced (10/11) that all municipal councils that had resigned ahead of the 10/8 vote would continue work as usual until the election could proceed (see “Palestinian Opinion” below).



Abbas’s declining health—the 81-year-old pres. was hospitalized briefly on 10/6 after suffering chest pains—catalyzed much of the intra-Palestinian politicking this quarter Abbas’s supporters, allies, and rivals jockeyed for position in the upcoming struggle over succession expected to follow his retirement from public life. Abbas himself took steps to ensure that succession would proceed on his terms

Further increasing the pressure on the Palestinian pres. and his would-be successors, unrest and anti-PA sentiment appeared to be on the rise in the West Bank early in the quarter, especially in Nablus, where the PA Security Forces (PASF) were cracking down on alleged weapons dealers and other wanted criminals. On 8/18, PASF troops conducted a series of raids in Nablus, sparking clashes and brief firefights in which 2 PASF troops were killed. In the aftermath, the PA intensified its crackdown: on 8/23, PASF troops beat to death Ahmad Izzat Halaweh, a Fatah military leader, as he was being held in Nablus in connection with the 8/18 killings and Nablus’s population began (8/23) a general strike in protest. The escalating tensions prompted Hamdallah to meet with Nablus gov. Akram Rajoub on 8/27 in an attempt to defuse the situation. After the meeting, Hamdallah vowed to resign if his govt. failed to arrest all wanted criminals fueling so-called security chaos (falatan amni) in the West Bank, and both the crackdown and protests continued. Around 12,000 Palestinians attended a funeral for the slain Fatah military leader on 8/28, and many of them marched through Nablus afterward, chanting anti-PA slogans.

As the protests and low-level violence continued, a regional intervention in internal Palestinian politics threatened to undermine Abbas. On 8/31, Times of Israel reported that the leaders of Egypt, Jordan, and the UAE had been pressuring Abbas into reconciling with Mohammad Dahlan, the Fatah strongman who has lived in the UAE since his expulsion from the party in 2011. In the preceding 18 mos., Dahlan had made several moves hinting at his planned return to Palestinian politics and a possible run for the presidency (see JPS 44 [4], 45 [1], and 46 [1]), but this was the 1st indication that he enjoyed broader support in the region. Although there had been rumors of regional machinations the previous quarter, current reports prompted Abbas to accuse (9/3) unnamed “capitals” of attempting to influence Palestinian politics, stating that “relations with everyone must be good, but no one will dictate to us any position or idea.” Abbas then launched a multifaceted effort to manage his succession on his own terms.

First, the pres. made moves to convene Fatah’s 7th General Congress. The party had not held a general congress since 2009, and the congress before that one had taken place 20 years earlier. A 7th congress would offer the party a chance to rededicate itself to its platform and elect new leaders, by Abbas’s reckoning, and improve his ability to transfer power piecemeal to his preferred deputies rather than to rivals such as Dahlan. Reports of the proposed congress continued to trickle out of Ramallah throughout 9/2016 and 10/2016, and Abbas ultimately announced (11/1) that it would be held on 11/29.

Abbas also purged suspected Dahlan supporters from Fatah. On 10/22, he expelled senior official Jihad Muhammad Tamliya as well as Fatah’s Jerusalem spokesperson, Raafat Elayyan. Tamliya had recently organized a conference in the name of “party unity,” which many saw as an attempt to bring Dahlan back into the fold, and Elayyan was thought to have similar predispositions. PASF troops then violently dispersed protests in support of Tamliya in al-Am‘ari and Balata refugee camps (r.c.), and in Jenin on 10/25, arresting Elayyan only hours after he had appeared on television discussing his expulsion from the party. In a similar move at the end of the quarter, Abbas reportedly stopped paying the salaries of 57 PA officials in Gaza because of their alleged support for Dahlan.

Finally, Abbas sought to counter the Egyptian-Jordanian-Emirati effort with a regional strategy of his own. On 10/23, he embarked on a 3-day visit to Turkey, where he met with Pres. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, PM Binali Yıldırım, and Grand National Assembly Speaker İsmail Kahraman in an apparent attempt to garner support for himself against Dahlan. Afterward, he flew to Doha, Qatar, for the funeral of Khalifa Bin Hamad al-Thani, who died on 10/23. He used the trip as a chance to meet with senior Qatari officials and, in an unexpected move, with Hamas leaders on 10/27 (see “A New Reconciliation Effort” below).

A few days after Abbas concluded his tour of the region, Dahlan broke his silence, giving interviews to Palestinian and international media in late 10/2016 and early 11/2016. Speaking in Cairo, Dahlan was highly critical of Abbas’s leadership—calling his rule a “dictatorship”—but clarified (10/30) that he had no presidential ambitions. Instead, he threw his support behind Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti, who has been in an Israeli prison since 2002. According to the New York Times on 11/2, the Arab leaders who had been promoting him “realiz[ed] that Mr. Dahlan’s reputation and Gaza roots may make it difficult for him to win popular support in the West Bank,” and began pushing for a power-sharing agreement instead, with Dahlan serving under a figurehead president. Dahlan lent credence to the rumored proposal (11/2), saying “I’m ready to be part of any team. I’m ready to be a soldier. I’m ready to be anything, but with vision and plans and real leadership.” He also said (10/30) that he would reject any attempt by Abbas to expel him and his supporters from the next Fatah general congress (see above), setting the stage for a contentious meeting on 11/29.



While observers viewed Abbas’s 10/27 meeting in Doha with Hamas leader Khalid Mishal and former Gaza PM Ismail Haniyeh as part of his efforts to stave off Dahlan, the participants framed it as the beginning of a new reconciliation process. According to the official Palestinian news agency, WAFA, Abbas and Mishal agreed to establish a national unity govt. and prepare for elections. Sources close to Abbas said (10/27) that the PA pres. did not rule out the possibility of reshuffling his cabinet in coordination with Hamas. Although Hamas released a statement saying that Mishal had offered Abbas a “comprehensive vision” for achieving reconciliation by, inter alia, adhering to measures and steps “to uphold previously signed agreements,” it was unclear how this new reconciliation process would proceed or which contentious issues would be dealt with 1st.

Fatah and Hamas remained tight-lipped about the new effort through the end of the quarter, but Mishal called (11/2) for Hamas to join the Fatah-dominated PLO, saying that it was necessary to have a “united authority” both within and outside of Palestine. PLO Exec. Comm. mbr. Wasel Abu Yousef said (11/2) that Hamas would be welcomed into the fold, but it was unclear how Hamas would reconcile its commitment to armed struggle with the PLO’s dedication to nonviolence.



Rumors began appearing last quarter that Mishal planned to step down from Hamas’s political leadership, prompting renewed speculation about the organization’s future. One week after senior official Ahmed Yousef said (9/13) that Hamas was, in fact, planning to hold internal elections in either 3/2017 or 4/2017, Mishal confirmed (9/25) the fact in a speech in Doha, indicating he had no plans to run for reelection. It was unclear who would succeed Mishal at the end of the quarter, but there were at least 2 clear candidates in the running: Haniyeh and dep. leader Musa Abu Marzuq.

It was a relatively uneventful quarter for internal Palestinian politics. Pres. Abbas continued to consolidate power ahead of his expected retirement. The PA resumed its attempt to organize municipal elections, which had collapsed the previous quarter amid more Hamas-Fatah wrangling. Finally, having restarted talks late last quarter, various Palestinian factions continued with efforts to achieve Palestinian national unity (see JPS 46 [2]).



In his effort to manage an eventual transfer of power, and to better position his chosen successors against rivals like exiled Fatah leader Mohammad Dahlan, Abbas announced last quarter that his Fatah party would hold its 7th General Congress on 11/29 (see JPS 46 [2]). A Fatah spokesperson said (11/21) that preparations were going well, and that more than 1,400 mbrs. were expected to attend and participate in elections for a new Fatah Central Comm. and Revolutionary Council.

When the congress opened in Ramallah on 11/29, rumor and speculation about Abbas’s retirement dominated press coverage. Attendees reelected him as party leader for a new 5-year term, however, resulting in a 3-hour address (11/30) in which Abbas highlighted the party’s dedication to the Palestinian people and reaffirmed the PA’s goal of joining more international institutions. He also proposed the creation of a temporary unity govt. with Hamas and invited the organization to yet another round of reconciliation talks. The congress concluded on 12/4, with the election of 18 mbrs. to the Central Comm., including 6 new additions (Ismail Jabr, Ahmad Hillis, Sabri Saidam, Samir Refaee, Rawhi Fattouh, and Dalal Salameh), and 80 mbrs. to the Revolutionary Council. The new composition of both bodies was taken to signal endorsement of Abbas’s political program (see “Palestinian Opinion” below).

Abbas continued to consolidate his control over Fatah in the aftermath of the congress. On 12/12, he revoked the immunity of 5 Fatah parliamentarians whom the public prosecutor reportedly wanted to investigate on charges related to money laundering and weapons trafficking, but because the 5 were deemed Dahlan supporters, the move was widely interpreted as being politically motivated. Later in the quarter, the new Central Comm. elected (2/15) Abbas loyalist Mahmoud al-Aloul to serve as vice-chair of Fatah. According to a senior official, the position had not yet been clearly defined but al-Aloul was expected to share duties with Abbas.



A little over 2 mos. after Abbas met with Hamas leader Mishal and former PM in Gaza Haniyeh in Doha (see JPS 46 [2]), Hamas and Fatah officials met to resume national reconciliation talks (1/5) in the Qatari capital once again. The 2 sides agreed to continue discussions in Beirut on 1/10, but few other details emerged. In Beirut, Hamas, PLO, and Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine (PIJ) officials discussed the possibility of convening the Palestinian National Council (PNC), which had not met since 2009, and concluded that it was necessary for all sides to implement existing reconciliation agreements before the legislative body met. The Beirut meeting was described as “positive and constructive” by PLO Exec. Comm. mbr. Mustafa Barghouti (1/10). After 3 more days of talks in Moscow (1/15–17), the factions involved agreed on the election of a new PNC, which would then elect a new PLO Exec. Comm. Hamas and PIJ also agreed to join the PLO. Hamas official Musa Abu Marzuq said that the proposed unity govt. would be responsible for finding solutions to issues that had plagued previous reconciliation efforts, “including the holding of free and democratic elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.”

Although the various factions appeared favorable to the Moscow platform, several key disputes reemerged in the final weeks of the quarter. On 1/25, a Gaza court doled out punishments to 8 Fatah affiliates on charges related to information gathering on behalf of the PLO, including 3 life sentences. A Fatah military leader commented (1/25) that some in Hamas might not be so interested in reconciliation after all. A few days later, the PA cabinet announced (1/31) that it would go ahead with municipal elections in the West Bank and Gaza on 5/13. The elections had originally been scheduled for 10/8/2016 and were postponed after Fatah-Hamas disputes threatened to undermine their legitimacy. Furthermore, a PA official said (1/31) that if the PA could not arrange for a ballot in certain regions then it should be postponed in those specific places (the last round of municipal elections in 2012 excluded Gaza, for example). The official added that Abbas had authorized a new elections commission to address the issues that had hindered attempts to organize a vote on 10/8. A Hamas spokesperson rejected (1/31) the announcement as well as the new commission, arguing that “elections should take place after disagreements are ended, reconciliation is achieved, and Palestinian institutions in Gaza and the West Bank are united.”



Mishal had announced last quarter that he would not be running for reelection as the head of Hamas (see JPS 46 [2]). While Haniyeh did not openly state that he would be replacing Mishal, he also opted not to stand for reelection as head of the organization in Gaza. Senior military official Yahya Sinwar was then elected (2/13) to fill Haniyeh’s position, causing some consternation in Israel and the international community because of his role in the gradual takeover of Hamas’s military wing from the ailing Mohammed Deif (Al-Monitor, 2/14). Amid the upheaval, Abu Marzuq emphasized (2/13) Hamas’s institutional character and asserted that “a change in leadership is not something that will bring about radical change in [the organization’s] policies.”



After several delays over the previous 6 mos., Palestinians finally went to the polls this quarter, electing new municipal reps. on 5/13. However, rather than providing a foundation for future presidential elections and a smooth transfer of power from aging PA pres. Abbas, continuing Hamas-Fatah disputes overshadowed the electoral process and exacerbated long-standing tensions between the Ramallah-based leadership and the de facto rulers of Gaza.

Two weeks after the PA cabinet announced (1/31) that elections would go forward on 5/13, and a PA official said (1/31) that it was open to proceeding in the West Bank only (see JPS 46 [3]), Hamas submitted (2/15) to the Central Elections Commission (CEC) 3 conditions for its participation: the alleviation of pressure from Abbas on Hamas’s leadership in the West Bank; the cancellation of all decisions and decrees issued in connection with the elections, including Abbas’s 1/10 formation of a special elections court; and reverting to the Palestinian local elections law of 2005. But faced with obduracy on the part of Abbas and his deputies, Hamas then informed the CEC that it would not allow elections in Gaza (WAFA, 2/21). Following a meeting between PA PM Rami Hamdallah and the head of the CEC, the PA cabinet announced (2/28) that the elections would go forward as planned in the West Bank only. (The 2012 municipal elections also excluded Gaza; see JPS 42 [2, 3].) A Hamas spokesperson called the decision a “recipe for division.”

In addition to the disagreements over elections, new challenges to the PA’s control of the West Bank emerged this quarter, further undermining its legitimacy. Most notably, the IDF’s killing of Palestinian youth activist and intellectual Basel al-Araj on 3/6 sparked a wave of protests and brought to the forefront the question of PA security coordination with Israel (see Palestine Unbound). Al-Araj and 2 other activists disappeared from Ramallah in 3/2016 under suspicious circumstances; within days, the PA revealed that it had arrested them at Israel’s request. The PA justified the arrest by claiming the 3 were carrying unlicensed weapons and planning to attack Israeli targets. When they were released 5 mos. later, the IDF arrested 4 of al-Araj’s associates. Al-Araj evaded capture and went to ground in an old house in the Ramallah area, where the IDF came for him on 3/6.

Much of the Palestinian public viewed the IDF’s killing of al-Araj as stemming from Palestinian Authority Security Forces (PASF) intelligence-sharing with Israel. Al-Araj’s killing galvanized Palestinians, who already opposed security coordination, especially after PA judicial officials announced (3/9) that they would proceed with a criminal case against al-Araj and his associates. Approximately 200 protesters gathered outside a courthouse in Ramallah on 3/12 to protest the case. PASF troops violently dispersed them, injuring at least 11 Palestinian civilians, including al-Araj’s father. Following complaints of excessive violence and increasing anti-PA sentiment, Hamdallah announced (3/13) the creation of a comm. to look into the PASF’s actions at the 3/12 protests. However, the PA’s response did nothing to quell the public outcry. The PFLP announced (3/13) that it would not participate in the 5/13 elections. “[Our] withdrawal from local elections is the result of the PA policy in general . . . and of the [PASF’s] ongoing oppression of the people in particular,” explained PFLP official Khalida Jarrar on 3/23. The comm. recommended punishments for several PASF officers on 3/28, and Hamdallah accepted its recommendations on 3/29.

As protests against the PA continued, the election project suffered another setback. On 5/8, the National Comm. to Support Palestinian Prisoners’ Hunger Strike, formed to support the Dignity Strikers’ call for “freedom and dignity” in Israeli prisons, urged the PA to suspend the municipal elections and to halt its security coordination with the IDF.

In the end, the elections proceeded without incident. Although Hamas boycotted the polling, the party released (5/10) a statement encouraging West Bank Palestinians to vote for the “most competent” candidates. Independent candidates won 65% of the contested seats, Fatah lists won 27.6%, and Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine lists won 2.77%. Voter turnout was recorded at 53.4%, roughly equal to the turnout during the last round of municipal elections in 2012, according to the CEC.

Absent a full slate of candidates in the municipal elections, the annual student elections at Birzeit University, held the previous week (5/10), served as a bellwether for the Palestinian public’s mood. The Hamas-aligned al-Wafaa Islamic Bloc won 25 of the student council’s 51 seats with 3,778 votes. The Fatah-aligned Martyr Yasir Arafat Bloc came in 2d, winning 22 seats with 3,340 votes.



Hamas-Fatah tensions exploded after Hamas pulled out of the municipal elections, and the population of Gaza suffered the consequences. First, Hamas announced (3/16) the formation of a new comm. to administer Gaza, comprising mbrs. of the Hamas-affiliated Palestinian Legislative Council bloc and other senior party officials. Although one of the latter, Salah Bardawil, insisted (3/16) that “Hamas has not formed a substitute govt. to replace the consensus govt.,” Abbas reacted as if that was exactly what they had done. On 4/4, the employees of the former PA govt. in Gaza, who had continued to receive their monthly salaries despite not working since Hamas took control in 2007, discovered that their 3/2017 paychecks had been cut by 30%. PA PM Hamdallah explained (4/8) that the cuts were commensurate with the austerity measures the PA had put in place in response to decreasing revenues from foreign aid in 2016. He also called (4/8) on Hamas to cede control of Gaza to the PA, arguing that the movement was exacerbating the Palestinians’ financial troubles by “taking all of the revenue [in Gaza] and spending it only on itself.” Hamas, for its part, described (4/10) the cuts as a “massacre.” UN special coordinator Nickolay Mladenov said (4/8) the cuts placed an additional burden on the people of Gaza, who were already struggling to survive in a difficult situation (see “Gaza Electricity Crisis” above), and urged Hamas to allow the PA to resume governance of the region.

On 4/11, Fatah Central Comm. mbr. Jamal Muhaisin announced a new reconciliation effort. Fatah would send a delegation to Gaza after Israel’s closure of the West Bank ended on 4/17 (see “Movement and Access” above) to discuss “possible future steps . . . upon the delegation’s return.” Hamas leaders met with representatives of various other factions in Gaza City on 4/12 to prepare for the delegation’s arrival, but Abbas cast a pall over their preparations when he told Palestinian diplomats gathered in Bahrain on 4/13, “These days, we are in a dangerous and tough situation that requires decisive steps. . . . Therefore, we are going to take unprecedented steps in the coming days to end the division.” Abbas did not elaborate on what sort of steps he was planning, but many speculated that he intended to stop paying the salaries of former PA employees in Gaza altogether.

As the Fatah delegation’s visit approached, senior Hamas officials began expressing hesitation. Hammad al-Ruqab said (4/17) that bilateral talks would “only cement the siege” on Gaza, and suggested that“a meeting . . . be held for all Palestinians so that all [of the various parties] can be involved.” Khalil al-Hayya reiterated (4/17) Hamas’s commitment to existing plans for the formation of a new Palestinian National Council and for the PA to take over the Gaza Strip (see JPS 36 [3]), but said Abbas would have to reverse the 3/2017 salary cuts and cancel the taxes imposed on Gaza’s power plant if he wanted Hamas participation in the meeting. In the event, the 2 sides met on 4/18 in Gaza City, with Fatah’s reps. reportedly proposing a road map with several key conditions: the PA would take control of Gaza, Hamas would dissolve its new administrative comm., and a new round of municipal elections would take place within 6 mos. The meeting was positive, according to Bardawil (4/19), and the 2 sides reportedly agreed that the PA would transfer the funds it had withheld when it cut the salaries of former employees on 3/2017.

As the electricity crisis in Gaza deepened, the optimism of the 4/18 meeting faded. On 4/25, sources close to Abbas said he was preparing to issue Hamas an ultimatum: either cede control of Gaza immediately or give up all PA funding. “We realize this sounds cruel,” a PA source said. “But in the end, after 10 years of the split and Hamas rule in the Strip, [Hamas] must decide whether it will control things in every sense, including ongoing expenses, or let the Palestinian government rule.” Hamas, for its part, suspended schools and closed govt. offices in Gaza on 5/2 to encourage people to attend anti-PA and anti-Abbas rallies. In addition, Hamas forces arrested several local Fatah leaders ahead of a counterprotest on 5/3. In a meeting with Arab ambs. in Washington on 5/4, Abbas held his ground and threatened further escalation. “Things will be painful,” he told them. With humanitarian conditions in Gaza deteriorating and international pressure growing for the PA and Hamas to heal the rift, there were no signs of a resolution by the end of the quarter.



As conflicts unfolded over the municipal elections, Gazan PA employees’ salaries, and the electricity crisis, Hamas’s leadership was quietly preparing a major shift in its stated policy positions. According to a 3/8 report in Asharq Al-Awsat, Hamas officials were working on a document that would constitute a dramatic departure from the 1988 charter, in which Hamas’s founders called for armed struggle to recover all of historic Palestine, and framed the struggle in religious terms as a battle of Muslims against Jews. Breaking the news about this initiative (3/8), a senior Hamas official stated, “Anyone who has followed the statements of Khalid Mishal and the Hamas leaders will not find anything different [in the new document]. . . . But in light of the major changes that have occurred in the region and within the Palestinian arena, Hamas has formulated this document to represent the movement and its principles.”

On 5/1, Hamas unveiled the “Document of General Principles and Policies,” including provisions accepting the notion of a Palestinian state with borders based on the pre-1967 armistice lines and calling for resistance to Israel as a Zionist project rather than a war against Jews (see “A Newer Hamas? The Revised Charter” in this issue). While Hamas leaders had articulated the various positions and policies laid out in the document over the previous 10 years, its publication marked the 1st time the party as a whole had assented formally to all of them. In terms of timing, Hamas sources attributed the early 5/2017 release of the document to the desire to better position the party ahead of U.S. pres. Trump’s meeting with Abbas on 5/3 and the new admin.’s efforts to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks (see “The Palestinian-Israeli Conflict” above). Israeli PM Netanyahu’s office called (5/1) the document a “smoke screen,” while Fatah said (5/2) “nothing [in the document] signals that Hamas is actually moving toward national unity.”

One week after unveiling the document, Hamas elected (5/6) Haniyeh, former PM in Gaza, to replace Mishal as head of the party’s political bureau. “We are certain that the new leadership will lead the organization wisely for the benefit of the Palestinian people,” Mishal said (5/6). Haniyeh was widely considered the front-runner for the position after Mishal signaled in early 2017 that he intended to step down. Mishal was expected to split his time between Gaza and Qatar, where he is based.


Rather than provide a foundation for future presidential elections, as originally intended, last quarter’s scuttled municipal elections further exacerbated the rift between the Palestinian factions. With Hamas refusing to participate and Gaza excluded, the fiasco formed the backdrop of increasingly acrimonious relations between the Ramallah-based leadership and Hamas this quarter, with both sides jockeying for power.

Further to last quarter’s electricity rationing and salary cuts to Gaza-based former PA employees (see “Gaza Electricity Crisis” and JPS 46 [4]), Pres. Abbas ratcheted up the pressure on Hamas to relinquish control of the territory this quarter. First, the PA suspended its monthly stipends to 277 Hamas-affiliated prisoners in Gaza, according to a Palestinian official on 6/4. Abbas came under pressure from Israel and the U.S. to end the PA’s monthly payments to Palestinians convicted of serious crimes against Israelis and to the families of “martyrs,” i.e., Palestinians killed in confrontations with Israeli forces (see “The Palestinian-Israeli Conflict” above). Second, the PA withheld the 6/2017 salaries of 37 Hamas-affiliated mbrs. of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), a move that PLC dep. speaker Ahmed Bahar called (7/10) a “declaration of war” in a statement to Safa Palestinian Press Agency. The PA provided no official explanation for either decision, and it remained unclear what the new policies entailed or how long they were intended to last.

Meanwhile, Abbas began to crack down on public dissent. PA atty. gen. Ahmad Barrak blocked (6/15) 11 websites affiliated with Hamas and other rivals, alleging that these violated regulations banning defamation and misinformation. Abbas himself then approved (6/24) a new so-called electronic crimes bill, which went into effect in early 7/2017.* According to Social Media Exchange, which monitors digital rights in the Arab world, the new legislation: required internet service providers to cooperate with PA intelligence agencies; empowered PA officials to block any website and record online conversations; allowed violators of “public morality” online to be imprisoned for a year and fined the equivalent of $7,000; and made online acts deemed to undermine “national unity” or “social harmony” punishable by 3–15 years of hard labor. By the end of the quarter, the PA had blocked 30 more websites and arrested at least 5 journalists under the new law, according to the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (8/11).

The PA’s next move against Hamas focused on the health sector, and had immediate, and deadly, consequences for ailing Palestinians in Gaza. According to data from Physicians for Human Rights–Israel (PHRI), the PA began blocking or delaying Gazan patients from traveling to Israel or the West Bank for treatment in 4/2017 (Haaretz, 6/26). Palestinians needing medical treatment unavailable in Gaza require permits from Israel and referrals from the PA, and the PA cut the funding required by patients needing to travel, after having provided the bulk of such funding alongside a number of humanitarian programs. According to PHRI, the PA was only approving around 10 of the 120 daily requests for referrals in 5–6/2017, and only a few dozen were approved in 5/2017, down from an average of over 2,000 per mo. in 2016.

After the PA Ministry of Health denied (6/26) making any changes to the referrals policy, Hamas got involved. A spokesperson from the parallel Hamas-run ministry in Gaza said (6/27) that 3 infants born with life-threatening conditions had died that week as a result of the PA’s conduct. The spokesperson alleged that another 11 Gazans had died for the same reasons since the beginning of 2017. “What is going on is a crime . . . and the international community and human rights organizations must intervene immediately to stop this behavior,” a doctor at al-Shifa Hospital declared (6/27).

In the wake of these allegations, Ramallah issued a measured response. Dr. Bassem al-Badri, the PA official responsible for the medical referral program, argued (6/28) that Israel was to blame for the infants’ deaths because it had only approved approximately 50% of travel permit requests, adding that it rejects hundreds of such applications every mo. with no explanation. Later in the quarter, the World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed al-Badri’s assertion, when it published a study showing that Israeli authorities had approved only 47.2% of the 2,282 requests for permits in 5/2017.

The PA couldn’t escape the story of the dead infants, however. After COGAT stated (6/28) that it had received no request from the PA to permit the travel of the 3 infants from Gaza, international pressure ramped up and the PA yielded ground. According to Israeli and Palestinian sources on 6/29, the PA Ministry of Health pledged to lift its restrictions and resume funding medical referrals beginning on 7/2 (Haaretz, 6/29).

Once the medical referral controversy had subsided, the PA went back on the offensive and sent into early retirement (7/4) some 6,145 former employees in Gaza as PM Hamdallah called (7/4) on Hamas to allow the PA to take control of Gaza. The same day, a PA spokesperson said that any “previous procedures and any possible future procedures in this regard” were only temporary, and that Abbas would roll them back as soon as Hamas conformed with his reconciliation proposal, first outlined last quarter. Abbas called for Hamas to dissolve the new administrative comm. it formed earlier in 2017 (see JPS 46 [3]), allow the PA to take control of the territory, and agree to a new round of elections in both the West Bank and Gaza.

Under pressure from Abbas, and given its increasingly precarious position in the region (see “Regional Affairs” below), Hamas sought to buttress its position by eliciting the support of archrival and exiled Fatah leader Mohammad Dahlan. From his base in Abu Dhabi, Dahlan had in recent years been trying to reenter Palestinian politics, notably by facilitating reconstruction projects in Gaza (see JPS 44 [4] and 45 [1]). Since Dahlan had led the Fatah forces that attacked Hamas after the latter’s 2006 election sweep in Gaza, his volte-face came as something of a surprise. According to senior Hamas official Khalil al-Hayya (6/18), it was the Egyptian govt. that had facilitated a deal between Dahlan and his erstwhile rivals during the 6/4–12 visit to Cairo by a Hamas delegation.

Details of the Hamas-Dahlan deal emerged on 6/26 when a document, titled “A National Consensus Document for Trust-Building,” leaked to Ma‘an News Agency. It included 15 provisions for ameliorating conditions in Gaza, and would see Dahlan appointed to lead a govt. in the territory, with Hamas retaining control of the Ministry of Interior and Internal Security.

Neither side confirmed the veracity of the document, but several related developments in late 6/2017 and 7/2017 pointed to growing Hamas-Dahlan cooperation: Samir Mashrawi, Dahlan’s top lieutenant, was set to return to Gaza soon according to a senior Hamas official (7/3); the Associated Press (7/20) reported that Dahlan had opened a Gaza office in 6/2017 to administer $2 m. in new aid he had secured from his United Arab Emirates (UAE) patrons; on 7/20, Hamas allowed more than 2,000 Palestinians to gather in Gaza City for a pro-Dahlan rally; and in a rare interview he gave AP on 7/22, Dahlan stated that his deal with Hamas was designed to revive Palestinian national institutions such as the PLC and to pave the way for a new consensus govt. He reaffirmed that he had no desire to become PA pres., and invited Abbas to lead the new reconciliation efforts but added, “We are not going to wait for him [to make a move] forever.” Also of note: Dahlan announced that Egypt would be opening the Rafah border crossing more frequently and that the UAE had pledged to fund a new $100-m. power plant in Gaza in the context of his deal with Hamas.

Dahlan’s reemergence spurred Abbas to formulate a new reconciliation offer. On 8/1, the Arab press reported that PA intelligence chief Majid Faraj had conveyed to Hamas officials the broad outline of a potential agreement by telephone on 7/27. The framework envisioned return of the electricity supply in Gaza to pre-crisis levels and allowing Gazan banks to resume trading in foreign currency; in exchange, Hamas would publicly renounce its reported power-sharing agreement with Dahlan and dismantle its civil service bureaucracy in Gaza. Hours before a Hamas delegation was to meet with Abbas in Ramallah, Hamas responded publicly by demanding (8/1) that the PA commit to keeping on all employees of the Hamas-run govt. in Gaza and to allow a new leadership group, including representatives of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine (PIJ), to take control on an interim basis until a new round of elections could be held.

Various offers and counteroffers, both official and unofficial, appeared in the press throughout the end of the quarter. Abbas reportedly restored the monthly stipends of more than 50 Hamas-affiliated former prisoners in Gaza but there were no official announcements by the end of the quarter, and the reconciliation process appeared at a standstill.



At a conference in Ramallah on 5/22, the PA PM launched a new National Policy Agenda (NPA) for 2017–22, with strategies and goals—national reconciliation, economic independence, statehood, etc.—meant to “provide direction and reinforce resilience as we advance along the inevitable path to a free, independent, and prosperous state of Palestine,” Hamdallah said. UN Special Coordinator Nickolay Mladenov hailed the NPA as “an ambitious policy agenda for Palestine that articulates a strong, clear vision for the Palestinian people.” Others, however, viewed the NPA’s ambitious goals as a potential liability. Writing for the Middle East Monitor on 5/23, Ramona Wadi noted that many of these were contingent on Israeli concessions. She argued that the NPA conference only served “as another public relations opportunity . . . for yet another façade depicting the illusion of progress.”



After a year of increasingly acrimonious relations (see JPS 46 [3]–47 [1]), Hamas and Fatah signed a major reconciliation agreement in 10/2017. The deal elided several key issues (e.g., the role of Hamas’s military wing), but both parties made significant concessions and by the end of the quarter, the process appeared to have the potential to end the decade-old rift between the govts. in Gaza and the West Bank.

In the opening weeks of the quarter, tension between Hamas and Fatah was escalating. At a meeting with Knesset leaders of the left-wing Meretz party in Ramallah, PA pres. Abbas reportedly threatened (8/20) to cut off all financial support to Gaza, including the funds used to buy electricity from Israel, unless Hamas dismantled the new administrative comm. it established at the beginning of the year. “We transfer $1.5 b. a year [to Gaza], but after Hamas declared its own govt., we discontinued 25% of our support,” Abbas reportedly said (8/20). “We fear that if there is no change soon that will gradually reach 100%.” A complete suspension of PA support would have increased the pressure on Hamas, and exacerbated the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, resulting from the 10-year-long siege of Gaza by Israel and Egypt, and other punitive restrictions Abbas imposed earlier in 2017 (see JPS 46 [4] and 47 [1]).

Abbas’s threat only led to more tension. Four days later, several news outlets reported Hamas released (8/24) a statement accusing the PA of carrying out politically motivated arrests of 9 of its mbrs. in the West Bank. In a separate statement, the PIJ echoed (8/24) Hamas’s claim, arguing that the arrests “signaled” the “PA’s insistence on shutting doors” to any reconciliation efforts.

The first sign that those doors were still open came on 8/26, when PA PM Hamdallah spoke at an opening ceremony of new wards at a Palestinian hospital in Hebron. He announced that the PA would be rehiring the 6,145 Gaza-based civil servants it had forced into early retirement on 7/4 (see JPS 47 [1]). Although Hamdallah did not offer any justification or reasoning for the PA’s position, the 7/4 decision was framed by PA officials as an effort to intensify the pressure on Hamas. The rollback was therefore seen in that context as well.

Two weeks after Hamdallah’s announcement, Hamas took the next step forward. The movement’s leader, Ismail Haniyeh, led a delegation of high-ranking officials to Cairo on 9/9 for talks with Egyptian intelligence officials on bilateral relations and the prospects for Palestinian national reconciliation. In pursuit of a more stable relationship with the Palestinians and border security, the Egyptians reportedly urged Hamas to make concessions for the sake of unity, and the Hamas officials, hoping to see the blockade on Gaza eased, relented. On 9/11, Haniyeh said Hamas was willing to dismantle its new administrative comm. and embark on a new round of reconciliation talks, without preconditions (Hamas had previously demanded that Abbas roll back the measures he had imposed earlier in the year before sitting down for talks). A week after Hamas’s announcement, senior Hamas officials met with their counterparts in Fatah for 2 days of talks in Cairo. Afterward, Hamas leaders released (9/17) another statement reaffirming their willingness to dismantle the administrative comm. and to carry on further reconciliation talks, as well as their openness to hold a new round of elections. The next day, Abbas called Haniyeh and told him he was “satisfied with the atmosphere” Hamas had created. Abbas then pledged to follow up on the process after he returned from the UNGA in New York.

Momentum built through the end of 9/2017. Haniyeh invited (9/19) Abbas to send PA officials to take control of Gaza “without obstacles,” and Hamdallah said (9/26) that the PA was planning to establish new committees to administer the transfer of power. Even the Middle East Quartet, which includes the U.S., as well as the UN, European Union (EU), and Russia, lauded (9/28) the process: “[We] urge the parties to take concrete steps to reunite Gaza and the West Bank under the legitimate PA. This will facilitate lifting the closures of the crossings, while addressing Israel’s legitimate security concerns, and unlock international support for Gaza’s growth, stability and prosperity, which is critical for efforts to reach lasting peace.”

As Hamdallah prepared to hold a PA cabinet meeting in Gaza, there were signs the process was not going as smoothly as it appeared. On 9/28, senior Hamas official Musa Abu Marzuq said that Hamas was not ready to discuss the proposed disbanding of its military wing, the Izzeddin al-Qassam Brigades, in the context of the reconciliation talks. According to a report in al-Hayat on 9/30, the measure was 1 of the 3 conditions Abbas required, along with a ban on foreign involvement in the administration of Gaza and the demand that all reconstructiondesignated funds flow through the PA. According to analysts, these conditions were designed to block exiled Fatah leader and longtime Abbas rival Mohammad Dahlan from reentering Palestinian politics. Dahlan has lived in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) since 2011, amassing great personal wealth since fleeing Ramallah under charges of corruption and allegations he participated in targeted assassination attempts against Hamas officials. On 9/13, the New York Times reported that Dahlan had secured a $50 m. pledge to fund a program that would distribute $50,000 payments to the victims of Fatah-Hamas violence that followed Hamas’s electoral victory in Gaza in 2006. Because Dahlan has been in exile and is seen to have “burned bridges,” this new program was perceived, in part, as an effort to rehabilitate his reputation and a way to return to Palestinian leadership.

Neither Dahlan’s apparent ambition nor Hamas’s military wing proved to be insurmountable hurdles. On 10/2, Hamas held a formal welcome ceremony for Hamdallah in Bayt Hanun. “We return to Gaza again to end the division and achieve unity,” Hamdallah told a crowd of at least 2,000. The next day, he convened the PA cabinet in Gaza for the first time since 11/2014 and said he was ready to take responsibility for the administration of Gaza “in full cooperation and partnership with all the Palestinian factions and forces.” He also said that reconciliation would put pressure on international donors to make good on their pledges of reconstruction support, and that all administrative issues would be resolved “within the [framework of] available resources.” The head of Egypt’s General Intelligence Directorate, Khaled Fawzy, who was in Gaza on 10/3 to help mediate the process, said (10/3) that the Egyptian govt. planned to invite Hamas and Fatah officials back to Cairo soon for further talks and was planning to use as a framework the reconciliation deal the 2 sides had signed in Cairo on 5/4/2011 (see update and Doc. B4 in JPS 40 [4]).

While the PA cabinet was in Gaza for further talks, Israel and the international community weighed in with their views. In Israel, PM Netanyahu condemned (10/3) the entire affair, saying that Israel would not accept “imaginary appeasement where the Palestinian side is reconciling at the expense of our existence.” Education Minister Bennett went further, calling (10/3) for Netanyahu to suspend the monthly transfers of tax revenues to the PA. In response, PLO secy.-gen. Saeb Erakat called (10/4) on Israel to fulfill its obligations under past agreements now that the Palestinians had made a “historic compromise.” UN special coordinator Nickolay Mladenov, on the other hand, expressed cautious optimism (10/3) about the process. And U.S. special rep. for international negotiations Greenblatt released a statement timidly welcoming the process: “We will be watching these developments closely, while pressing forward with the PA, Israel, and international donors to try to improve the humanitarian situation in Gaza.”

What the U.S. and the rest of the world saw was more progress. On 10/5, after 4 days of talks between Hamas and PA officials, Hamas announced that the PA had officially taken over as the administrative authority in Gaza. In an interview on Egyptian television, Abbas reiterated (10/3) his demand for Hamas to dismantle its military arm before the PA lifted any of its new sanctions on Gaza, insisting that he didn’t want to reproduce Lebanon’s “Hezbollah model.” Fawzy then reportedly informed (10/5) Abbas that Hamas would refuse to consider dismantling the 27,000- strong force until a peace deal with Israel was reached and new elections were held (Raialyoum, 10/5).

As the disagreement over Hamas’s military wing persisted, Abbas downplayed the reconciliation process. According to a readout of a meeting of the Fatah Revolutionary Council on 10/8, he said that national unity would take more time, and that the PA would not be able to assume all its responsibilities in Gaza absent consensus on the agenda of the PLO agenda and the PA’s sole authority over security.

Despite Abbas’s reservations, Hamas and Fatah officials returned to Cairo the following week and in a joint press conference on 10/12 they announced a new reconciliation agreement. They didn’t immediately reveal any details, but information leaked to the media outlined the following specific provisions: the PA would lift all sanctions imposed earlier in 2017, Hamas would give up control of Gaza to the PA by 12/1, Hamas and the PA would form a joint police force to patrol Gaza, and Egypt would host the 11/21 round of reconciliation talks aimed at forming a unity govt. While Netanyahu and other Israeli officials decried the deal and uncertainty about its specifics lingered, the international community and the Palestinian public greeted the announcement with fanfare. On the evening of 10/12, thousands of Palestinians gathered in the streets of Gaza City to celebrate.

After 4 days of unbroken positivity on both sides, a Hamas spokesperson criticized (10/16) the PA for not prioritizing the rollback of sanctions on Gaza. “It is not justified to continue the sanctions on Gaza, while the [PA] govt. is content with talking about gaining control of border crossings and exploration for [natural] gas in Gaza,” he said. His comments came 1 day after the Fatah Central Comm. met to discuss the reconciliation deal, neglecting to debate the specific issue of sanctions, as had been expected. Another senior Hamas official commented (10/16) that “the failure of Abbas to respond to popular and national demands to cancel his arbitrary measures against our people in Gaza is unjustifiable.”

In addition to Egypt, the 10/12 deal won the Palestinians support from other allies in the region. The Jordanian press reported (10/19) that King Abdullah planned to allow Hamas to reopen its office in Amman (although other news reports refuted this), and the chair of Qatar’s Comm. to Rebuild Gaza, Mohammed al-Emadi, announced (10/24) that Doha would fund the construction of a new presidential residence and “the headquarters of the Palestinian govt. in Gaza after the consensus govt. assumes its duties fully.”

Even Netanyahu reportedly saw potential in the deal. According to 3 Israeli sources, despite not recognizing the agreement, the Israeli PM told (10/16) his security cabinet that Israel should cooperate with PA officials, should they take control of Gaza, because averting a humanitarian crisis would serve Israel’s interest. The same sources said that Netanyahu had already informed both the Egyptian and U.S. govts. that the deal would not facilitate a resumption of peace talks with the Palestinians. The next day, however, Netanyahu was apparently overruled. The security cabinet imposed (10/17) conditions on any Israeli participation in talks related to Palestinian national reconciliation (see “The PalestinianIsraeli Conflict” above).

The Palestinians were undeterred. A little more than 2 weeks after Hamas and Fatah officials stood together at the Egyptian General Intelligence Directorate’s office in Cairo, they came together again to take the first big step toward implementing the deal. At a ceremony at the Rafah border crossing on 11/1, Hamas formally handed over control of Gaza’s border crossings to the PA. Hamas forces departed (11/1) from their posts on the Palestinian side of the crossing and dismantled (11/1) their checkpoints at the Erez and Kerem Shalom crossings, allowing PASF to take control. Mladenov called (11/1) it a “landmark development,” and both the EU (11/1) and the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem (11/3) welcomed the move.


Reconciliation Process

                When 2018 came to a close the reconciliation process continued to be at a standstill. As reported last quarter, Egypt had sought to mediate in the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation process and between Hamas and Israel but the Fatah leadership rejected the proposals coming out of Cairo. The Fatah leadership continued throughout the end of the year to reject any Egyptian-facilitated mediation because it saw the Hamas-Israel track as an obstacle to Palestinian unity and counterproductive to the reconciliation process. Hamas on the other hand cited the sanctions by the Palestinian Authority (PA) on the party and its members as the reason for its engagement with Israel through the Egyptian intermediary. A number of reports alleged that Fatah was engaging in the Egyptian-led talks and that interim agreements had been reached. All of these reports were denied by Fatah officials.

                To alleviate the economic situation in Gaza, which first and foremost is caused by the Israeli blockade but also is contributed to by the PA sanctions of Hamas, the Qatari government sought to send aid in form of fuel and cash to Gaza which in the first instance was blocked by the PA (10/4). Despite the PA blocking the Qatari-funded gas for Gaza’s power plant, a number of shipments of fuel reached Gaza, the first on 9 October. Qatar later (10/11) stated that it would be sending an additional $150 million in financial aid to pay for civil servants’ salaries to Gaza, the first of such cash shipments arrived on 8 November. In addition to the fuel and cash it was made public (12/10) that Qatar had proposed building an airport in Gaza to Hamas and Israel. By the end of 2018 it remained unclear whether plans for the proposed airport had moved forward. According to Mohammad al-Emadi, the Qatari ambassador to the Palestine and head of Qatar’s Gaza Reconstruction Committee, the plan would include that planes taking off from Gaza would land in Doha for a layover before taking off for the rest of the world, presumably enhancing Gazans mobility by circumventing Israel’s continued blockade of Gaza. The airport project and the shipments of fuel and cash received criticism from a number of Fatah officials, some suggesting that the Qatari aid would create greater division between Gaza and the West Bank thus following what they perceive as the U.S. peace plan. Gaza’s only airport was built in 1998 but it has been out of operation since 2001 when it was destroyed by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

                As PA president Mahmoud Abbas had embarked to New York to speak in front of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) Hamas arrested (9/24) dozens of Fatah members in Gaza for voicing their support for Abbas. In response, the PA arrested Hamas members in the West Bank. Most detainees in Gaza and the West Bank were released within a week. The pattern of arresting political opposition was documented in a Human Rights Watch report “Two Authorities, One Way, Zero Dissent” released on 23 October. Hamas and Fatah officials also sought to delegitimize one another as President Abbas was in New York, further illustrating the rift between the 2 parties. The Hamas Legislative Council’s deputy chairman Ahmad Bahar called President Abbas an illegitimate president and said that he does not represent the Palestinian people. Fatah officials criticized Hamas for their attacks on President Abbas and accused Hamas of buying into the Israeli and American strategy of dividing the Palestinian people. At the UNGA speech (9/27), President Abbas called out Hamas for not fulfilling their obligations in agreements with the PA.

                In a rare moment of Hamas-Fatah solidarity President Abbas defended Hamas as the UNGA voted (12/7) on a resolution to condemn Hamas, the resolution did not pass (see United Nations). Fatah Advisory Council member Serhan Dweikat later said that “after all, the PA and Fatah consider Hamas an important Palestinian liberation movement, regardless of their disagreements.” Hamas applauded PA ambassador to the United Nations (UN) Riyad Mansour for his efforts at pressuring the UN members to vote the resolution down.       

                Just before the year ended the Hamas-Fatah relations took a hit when President Abbas announced (12/22) that he was dissolving the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) and that new elections would be held within 6 months. Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Executive Committee member Ahmad Majdalani told Palestine TV since the PLC, which was part of the 1993 Oslo process, was dissolved the Palestinians had 2 choices in their path towards statehood, either creating a parliament for the state of Palestine or a preliminary assembly. He further stated that both were being discussed. Hamas issued a statement on the same day which called the decision invalid “because it was issued by an illegal body.” Hamas further called on Egypt for support on the matter. President Abbas’ announcement came at a PLO meeting in Ramallah where he also accused Hamas of blocking the Egyptian efforts to mediate a reconciliation. At a speech 6 days prior (12/16) celebrating the 31st anniversary of Hamas, the head Hamas’ political bureau Ismail Haniyeh had invited President Abbas to talk unity. On 26 December following President Abbas’ announcement it was reported that the PA barred the speaker of the PLC and other members of Hamas from entering the PLC building to give a speech condemning the decision. On New Year’s Day Fatah accused Hamas of detaining 500 of its members organizing events to celebrate Fatah’s 54th anniversary in Gaza. Hamas said it only had detained 38 Fatah members.  

Hamas-Israel Cease-fire

                As Israel’s deadly response to the Great March of Return continued so did the Egyptian-mediated cease-fire talks between Hamas and Israel, without Fatah consent (see above). On 28 August Hamas released a statement confirming a “national consensus” in favor of a long-term cease-fire agreement with Israel, despite President Abbas’ disapproval of the separate Hamas-Israel negotiations. However, after the Hamas-Israel talks had been stalled for weeks reports came out (9/19) that Hamas was working on escalating the Great March of Return protest to put pressure on Israel and Egypt to complete a long-term cease-fire. Different reports on what a long-term cease-fire would entail were released. As early as 23 September it was reported that the PA would take control of Gaza and that there would be limitations on Hamas’ military wing. A draft of a Hamas-Israel cease-fire agreement was published in the Lebanese newspaper al-Akhbar on 3 November and alleged that it included Egypt agreeing to opening the Rafah border crossing permanently, Israel expanding the fishing zone off Gaza’s coast to 14 nautical miles, and permitting 5,000 Gazans to enter Israel for work, in addition to allowing Qatar to pay 80 percent of civil servants salaries in Gaza. As Israel’s attacks on Gaza grew more intense in October (see above) the Hamas-Israel talks continued and in Cairo Hamas and Israel agreed to a cease-fire on 26 October based on Hamas curbing the launch of all incendiary balloons and kites sent as part of the border protest in exchange for Israel lifting its siege on Gaza. The following day a spokesperson for Islamic Jihad in Palestine (PIJ) said that PIJ had agreed to “a comprehensive cease-fire” beginning immediately. However, on 11 November an Israeli undercover mission led to the killing of several Gazans (see above). After the Israeli attack on Hamas on 11 November there were reports that Israel had stopped working with Egyptian mediators to de-escalate the violence. On 13 November after 3 days of heavy bombardment of Gaza, Egyptian, UN, and Norwegian mediators facilitated a cease-fire between Hamas and Israel following the agreement made between the 2 parties in 2014. Despite the cease-fire Israel continued its killing of protesters of the Great March of Return and bombing targets in Gaza (see above).     

Palestinian Authority

                As the U.S. announced it was cutting all aid to the Palestinians (see United States), including $20 million in aid to the Palestinian hospitals in East Jerusalem, the PA stated (9/10) that it would cover the deficit in the budget for the hospitals in East Jerusalem. PA prime minister Rami Hamdallah said in an announcement that Palestine “will not trade our national rights for political money.” 

                In his speech to the UNGA (9/27) President Abbas called on the U.S. president Donald Trump’s administration to reverse its recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, to reinstate aid to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), and to oppose Israel’s continued settlement enterprise. He further stated that “Jerusalem is not for sale and the Palestinian people’s rights are not up for bargaining” in a response to President Trumps ‘Deal of the Century.’ Later in October (10/16) Palestine won a vote at the UNGA to become the next head of the Group of 77 and China. Only 3 countries voted against, the U.S., Israel, and Australia. Heading the Group of 77 and China will allow Palestine to make statements, submit and co-sponsor proposals and amendments, and be able to reply and raise points of order. Palestine will chair the Group of 77 and China from the beginning of 2019. Then in late December (12/26) Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki announced that Palestine would start the application to gain full membership at the UN. It is unlikely that the application will pass since it would have to go through the UN Security Council where the U.S. has the power to veto the application. The application to become a full member of the UN comes after President Abbas in November (11/15) signed accession papers for 11 international organizations and conventions including the Universal Postal Union, the Convention on the Nationality of Married Women, the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Basel Protocol on Liability and Compensation for Damage Resulting from Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal, the Vienna Convention of Road Traffic, the Protocol concerning countries or territories at present occupied, the Convention on Consent to Marriage, Minimum Age for Marriage and Registration of Marriages, the Agreement Establishing the Common Fund for Commodities, and the International Convention on Arrest of Ships. The PA move is aligned with its push to become internationally recognized as a state. The U.S. has tried to halt Palestinian ascension to international bodies in addition to recent punitive moves against the Palestinian people (see United States).      

                An import-export war unfolded in the month of December between the PA and Israel. On 2 December the PA deputy minister of agriculture Abdallah Lahlouh announced that had stopped allowing Israeli sheep into PA controlled areas of the West Bank. In his announcement he cited the low prices of the Israeli sheep and that the PA was protecting Palestinian farmers. In response Israel’s agricultural minister Uri Ariel ordered (12/17) an indefinite freeze on imports of Palestinian agricultural products to Israel. The decision was done without consultation with other Israeli government bodies and could be overturned by Prime Minister Netanyahu. The following week the PA decided (12/27) to respond with a ban on importing all Israeli vegetables, fruits, and poultry to the Palestinian markets. The import-export war was resolved by the end (12/30) of the year after PA agricultural minister Sufian Sultan told the Israeli Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development agricultural ministry that it would start allowing Israeli produce, including sheep, into the Palestinian markets leading the Israeli minister to reverse Israel’s ban as well. 

                 On 17 December the civil affairs minister Hussein al-Sheikh said that the PA had informed Israel that it was reconsidering all agreements between the 2 parties. Al-Sheikh further explained that the move was directly linked to the Israeli escalation of violence in the West Bank in the weeks prior (see above). The announcement comes after the Palestinian Central Council (PCC) came to a similar decision in October (see below).   

                A Palestinian man from East Jerusalem was sentenced to life in prison after he tried to sell his house in the Old City to Israeli settlers. The Palestinian man, who is also a U.S. citizen, was arrested in October and is said to have confessed to the charges. He was sentenced on 31 December. It is the first time that the PA has applied its law prohibiting sales of property to foreign entities in East Jerusalem, other cases have been brought to court for sales in the West Bank. After the man was arrested by the PA, Israeli forces raided (11/4) the PA offices in the West Bank seizing files and computers. During the raid 4 employees were injured, including the PA minister for Jerusalem affairs Adnan Husseini.                    


                In Gaza 6 people were sentenced (12/3) to death for collaborating with Israel. The 6 people were suspected of having played a role in the Israeli operation that cost the life of 7 Palestinians and 1 Israeli soldier (see above). According to B’Tselem 13 people were sentenced to death in 2018, while no executions were carried out this year.   

                Former president of Egypt Hosni Mubarak claimed during his testimony (12/26) in Egyptian court that 800 members of Hamas had crossed the border to Egypt and helped free prisoners as part of the January 25 Revolution in 2011. A statement released by Hamas on 29 December read “We categorically deny Mubarak’s testimony about sending 800 gunmen to Cairo to free Egyptian, Palestinian and Arab prisoners.”  

Palestine Liberation Organization

                In a 2-day meeting session (10/28–29) of the PCC its members voted to suspend its recognition of Israel until Israel recognize a Palestinian state on the 4 June 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital. The decision was made with President Abbas’ consent and also included calls for an end to the PA’s security coordination with Israel and to suspend economic agreements including the Paris Protocols. PLO secretary-general Saeb Erakat stated the day of the last meeting that the PCC’s decisions would be implemented gradually. The PA later made a similar announcement in December (see above).            

Palestinian Opinion

                On 1 October Palestinian citizens of Israel and Palestinians in Gaza, East Jerusalem, and the West Bank observed a general strike to voice opposition to the Nation-State Law which passed in the Knesset on 19 July 2018. The law codified Israel’s status as the nation-state for the Jewish people (see JPS 48 [1]). Protest against the Nation-State Law continued for a second day near Ramallah on 2 October.


                Tensions between Hamas and Fatah were exacerbated in 2019, when Hamas continued its arrests of Fatah members and sympathizers from late 2018 into the new year. The arrests were made as members of Fatah in Gaza were planning to commemorate the 54th anniversary of the movement. According to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, the 1st planned commemoration on 1 January was suppressed violently in Gaza City, and ahead of a 2d planned celebration on 7 January, arrests and arrests summonses were carried out to prevent the commemoration. A Fatah spokesperson said in a statement that more than 1,000 of its members were detained by Hamas prior to 7 January. In the period between the 2 planned commemorations, Hamas accused the Palestinian Authority (PA) of arresting more than 60 of its members in the West Bank. The relations between the 2 parties was further damaged when armed men on 4 January raided the Gaza City offices of Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation (PBC), destroying cameras and editing and broadcasting equipment. The chairman of the PBC, which has its headquarters in Ramallah and receives funding from the PA, said that, “Hamas is deeply involved in this conspiracy.” A Hamas official from the ministry of interior said that the men that raided the PBC offices were not members of Hamas, that the ministry condemned the raid, and that Hamas had arrested 5 suspects. They claimed the suspects were former employees of the PA acting because the PA had suspended their pay. At a protest in Ramallah on 5 January against the raid of the PBC offices, PA prime minister Rami Hamdallah said that the PA held Hamas responsible for the raid and that the PA would compensate PBC for its losses, which it estimated to be at $100,000. The conflict between the 2 parties further escalated drastically when the PA pulled its employees from the Rafah border crossing to Egypt. PA employees had been operating the crossing since 2017, but the PA pulled its employees from crossing point on 6 January, effectively shutting the border crossing down and leaving Egypt to decide if Hamas officials should operate the crossing. The PA reasoned that Hamas was undermining PA operations in Gaza and was detaining some of its employees, compromising their presence in Gaza. Hamas spokesperson Fawzi Barhoum argued that closing the Rafah border crossing created additional sanctions on Hamas and the people of Gaza, referring to the financial sanctions imposed by the PA. The Rafah border crossing had been permanently open since July 2018 until the PA’s decision to pull its employees. Reports later came out that Egyptian intelligence officials were holding meetings with both Hamas and Fatah officials on 10 and 11 January in Gaza to prevent any further escalation. No further information on the progress between the parties was provided.

                On 29 January, PA prime minister Rami Hamdallah resigned from his position and dissolved his cabinet. Hamdallah’s resignation was promptly accepted by President Abbas. According to Hamdallah, his decision to resign came after a recommendation by the Central Committee of Fatah, which also suggested that a new government should be formed only by parties under the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) umbrella, effectively shutting out Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Palestine (PIJ). Fatah officials said that the move was justified by Hamas’s “refusal to deal with the government of national reconciliation.” Hamas, on the other hand, responded by condemning the decision, calling it an attempt to marginalize and exclude Hamas from Palestinian politics. A Fatah official in Ramallah, Azzam al-Ahmed, acknowledged the Hamas claim, saying that 1 of the central aims of the next government would be to isolate Hamas in the Gaza Strip. According to reporting by UK-based Al Araby al Jadid, the Central Committee of Fatah meeting that prompted Hamdallah’s decision was contentious as some fractions wanted Hamdallah to stay, while others favored Mohammed Shtayyeh as a new head of the government. Reporting also stated that Saeb Erakat suggested that he could head the new government, but this suggestion was seen as unfavorable because of his responsibilities in the PLO. On 10 March, PA president Abbas officially asked Mohammed Shtayyeh to form a new government. Hamdallah’s decision also comes after the Palestinian Legislative Council, in which Hamas held a majority of the seats, was dissolved by the Palestinian Supreme Constitutional Court in December 2018 (see Intra-Palestinian Dynamics 16 August-31 December 2018). In regard to new elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council, a member of Fatah Central Committee, Hussein al-Shaykh, said that elections would be held when the Central Election Commission says it is ready, but that it would not be held without the participation of Palestinians living in occupied Jerusalem. He further stated that, “[t]he President and Fatah pledge to accept whatever the results of the elections are and who wins will rule the country.” It is still unknown if Palestinians in East Jerusalem would be able to participate without the consent of Israel. Al-Shaykh also indicated that new elections would be at least 100 days away from 21 January. Hanan Ashrawi, member of the PLO Executive Committee, said during a meeting with the European Union (EU) heads of mission in Palestine that EU support would be needed to protect the Palestinian people’s right to free elections. She pointed out the situation in regard to securing the participation of Palestinians in occupied Jerusalem as an obstacle. “Impediments from the Israeli occupation have become a serious concern, especially in relation to concerted efforts to ban official Palestinian presence in Jerusalem. . . . Without serious international support to Palestinian elections, we fear Israel will block the elections.” In March, Hamas’s political bureau chief Ismail Haniyeh separately called for the formation of a new unity government to prepare for comprehensive elections across Gaza, East Jerusalem, and the West Bank.

                In an effort to support Egypt’s Fatah-Hamas reconciliation efforts, Russia hosted a 3-day summit in Moscow, from 11-13 February, to further talks between Fatah and Hamas and 10 other political movements in Palestine. The talks did not lead to any preliminary or final agreement between the parties. Al-Monitor reported that among the most contentious subjects were the extention of a future Palestinian state, whether East Jerusalem or Jerusalem should be the capital, and the PLO’s role as representative of the Palestinian people. After the Moscow summit, PA-Hamas relations deteriorated when Hamas security forces prevented PA officials from operating the Kerem Shalom crossing into Gaza, used for commercial transport. Hamas accused PA employees of allowing Israeli espionage equipment to enter Gaza and Hamas officials took over the operations on the Gaza side of the crossing on 14 February.

                More than 5,000 Palestinian employees in Gaza did not receive their pay from the PA in February. All the employees who did not receive their salaries are affiliated with PIJ, Hamas, or PA president Abbas rival Mohammad Dahlan. According to Haaretz sources, the decision to withhold salaries came directly from Abbas’s office.

                On 8 March, PA president Abbas accused Hamas of attempting to assassinate a Fatah official, Ahmad Helles, in Gaza. According to media reporting, unknown assailants opened fire on Helles’s car in the central part of Gaza; the car was damaged but there were no injuries in the assault. 9 days later, on 17 March, Palestinian Legislative Council member Azem Salhab’s house was attacked by unknown assailants with guns, causing damage to his home and car. Hamas blamed the PA for the attack. The day after, on 18 March, the spokesperson for Fatah in Gaza, Atef Abu Saif was attacked by unknown assailants critically injuring him near his home in Bayt Lahia. The PA accused Hamas of carrying out the attack.

                As Palestinians in Gaza protested the Hamas-run government on 3/14 and 3/15 (see below), Hamas accused the PA of orchestrating the demonstration.

                It was reported by Israeli media that Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at a Likud meeting, defended allowing Qatari funds to be transferred to Gaza as part of a strategy to keep Hamas and the PA separate and thus dividing the ruling factions of Gaza and the West Bank. Prime Minister Netanyahu allegedly said, “whoever is against a Palestinian state should be for” transferring the funds to Gaza.


                On the Hamas-Israel track, it was reported that Israel halted Qatari cash scheduled to reach Gaza in January. Sources said that Israel was responding to rockets fired from Gaza into Israel early in January (See Palestinian-Israeli Conflict). Israel allowed the resumption of the flow of Qatari cash to Gaza after a cease-fire was reached in mid-November. Hamas subsequently called on Egypt, Qatar, and the United Nations (UN), which had facilitated the cease-fire, to assure that Israel was adhering to the agreements, including allowing the transfer of Qatari cash. The 3d installment of cash, the 1st of the year, was scheduled for 20 January, but Israel withheld the cash, citing the continuation of the Great March of Return protest and injury to an Israeli soldier reportedly caused by a bullet fired from Gaza. After the delay of funds, Hamas informed Qatar that it would not accept its cash donation because of Israel’s violation of the agreement. A Hamas official further stated that Gaza will not be a pawn in the upcoming Israeli elections. Hamas’s refusal to accept the cash that was intended to be distributed among Gaza’s poor families prompted Qatar to find other ways of distributing the money. Qatar instead had the 94,000 families in Gaza in urgent need receive $100 each in 4 installments through Gaza post offices, and redirected funding to humanitarian projects through the UN. Hamas reportedly agreed to the new arrangement. The PA has been vocal in its opposition to the Qatari cash infusion as it argues that Israel is allowing the cash to divide Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.


Palestinian Authority


Legal Cases        

                A Palestinian-American man sentenced to life in prison (12/31/2018) for selling land to Israeli settlers in the Old City in East Jerusalem was said to be released on 17 January by the PA after Israeli and American pressure (see Intra-Palestinian Dynamics 16 August-31 December 2018). Reuters reported on 20 January that the man had been handed over to U.S. authorities. A Palestinian court also dropped their charges on 2 January against a young Palestinian man who was arrested on 4 April 2018 for a Facebook post. The man was released on bail on 17 May 2018. According to Addameer, the man was subjected to psychological torture while interrogated.

                The PA issued a new regulation on renting in the West Bank for Palestinians holding an Israeli ID on 3 January. The new regulation stipulated that Palestinians with Israeli IDs must pass a security clearance before being allowed to rent property in the West Bank. According to PA sources, the new rule was instituted because the government had seen an increase in crimes committed by Palestinians with Israeli IDs, particularly crimes related to drug offenses. Later, on 8 January, the PA amended the new rule so that Palestinian Jerusalemites were exempted, as many Palestinians living in East Jerusalem do not have Israeli citizenship but Israeli ID cards. Al-Monitor reported that the PA amended the ruling because of pressure from the Palestinian public and that the amendment eased some of the tension sparked by the new regulations.

                In mid-January, Palestinian private-sector employees initiated a strike in the West Bank to protest the Social Security Law. The law was implemented in January in that 7.2 percent of private-sector employees’ salaries will be deducted for the social security fund. Employers will be required to pay 8 percent of their employees’ salaries to the same fund. The funds will be paid out to Palestinians at their retirement, which is set to 60 years and pays for maternity leave. According to Haaretz, some 2,000 Palestinians partook in the protest on 15 January. As the protests unfolded, the supervisor for the Social Security Institution said that the law would not be rescinded but said that changes would be made to improve worker’s rights and to increase their representation. As a new general strike was set to be carried out on 29 January, President Abbas decided to suspend the Social Security Law on 28 January. The Fatah Revolutionary Council said of the concession to the protesters, “[t]he Fatah movement was and is a mass movement, and will always stand with its heroic people, who are conducting a campaign of national liberation.”


United Nations

                On 15 January, Palestine assumed the chair of the Group of 77 and China at the UN. Palestine was elected in October 2018 after a vote at the UN General Assembly, where only the U.S., Israel, and Australia voted against (see United Nations 16 August-31 December 2018). As chair of the Group of 77, Palestine will be negotiating on behalf of the block of 134 member countries. Palestinian ambassador to the UN Riyad Mansour said, “We will do all we can, under President Mahmoud Abbas’ leadership, to make our presidency over the Group of 77 and China in 2019 a success to win the world’s confidence and respect for Palestine, its officials and leadership.” PA foreign minister Riyad al-Maliki in a similar vein expressed that the being chair of the Group of 77 was about gaining international recognition. On the same day that Palestine assumed the chair of the Group of 77, Foreign Minister al-Maliki announced that Palestine would apply to become a full member of the UN. The 1st such bid by Palestine was in 2011, but never made it to the UN Security Council (UNSC). It is unlikely that a new bid would pass the UNSC as the U.S. has veto power in that UN body. In his announcement, al-Maliki recognized that the U.S. would veto a Palestinian application but that it would not prevent Palestine from presenting it. Later, on 28 January, Ambassador Mansour told journalists that the obstacles of becoming a full member of the UN 1 day would disappear, “but that day is not today.” He further stated that the U.S. stipulation that Palestine cannot ascend to full membership before finishing negotiations with Israel is counteractive, referencing the lack of negotiations in the U.S. and Israeli declarations of independence. While at the UN in New York, President Abbas briefed UN secretary-general António Guterres on the current situation surrounding the conflict and asked for the implementation of an international body for the protection of Palestinians.


U.S. and Aid

                In response to the Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act (ATCA), which passed both houses of Congress last year and was signed into law by U.S. president Donald Trump in October, the PA told the U.S. that it would not take U.S. money for security cooperation with Israel. ATCA, which was implemented on 1 February, allows U.S. citizens to sue any foreign entity that receives funding from the U.S. government. Such lawsuits which previously had been dismissed by U.S. courts could ruin the already-fragile Palestinian economy. Secretary general of the PLO Saeb Erakat said in an interview that PA prime minister Rami Hamdallah, upon the request of President Abbas, had informed the U.S. government that the PA would not take any U.S. security funding. He further stated that, “[t]his Administration [the Trump administration] believes that pressuring and blackmailing the Palestinian leadership and using tools for pressure such as aid are going to get the Palestinians to accept what the US administration and the administration of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are trying to impose on the Palestinian People” (for more on ATCA see United States). The Palestinian ambassador to the UK Husam Zomlot, also sharply criticized the Trump administration’s policy toward Israel and Palestine, stating that the U.S. is acting in support of the “Greater Israel” project by eliminating Palestinian statehood. Ambassador Zomlot said that, whereas the U.S. used to play the role of Israel’s lawyer, the Trump administration is now acting as “Israel’s police.” Later in January, President Abbas made similarly sharp remarks against the Trump administration’s policy toward Palestine. At a press conference with Maltese president Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca, Abbas said, “What encourages Israel to act as a state above the law is the US administration’s support and its blind bias towards the [Israeli] occupation, by recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and by moving the US embassy to it in violation of the resolutions of international legitimacy.” U.S.-Palestinian relations have been cut off since the U.S. announced that it was moving its embassy to Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in December 2017. Last year, the U.S. cut virtually all funding for aid and projects in Palestine (see United States 16 August-31 December 2018).

                Secretary General of the PLO Saeb Erakat announced on 8 February that the Palestinian leadership would not be attending the Warsaw Summit on 13-14 February hosted jointly by Poland and the U.S. It was unclear whether Palestinian representatives had been invited until 8 February, when Polish and U.S. officials confirmed that the Palestinian representatives had been invited shortly before Secretary General Erakat made the announcement. The PA has rejected to participate in talks with the U.S. since President Donald Trump announced he was moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem in December 2017 (for more on the Warsaw summit, see United States). Before the Warsaw summit began, Palestinian officials, including Secretary General Erakat and PA president Mahmoud Abbas, visited Egypt and Saudi Arabia spoke to and officials from the African Union in Addis Ababa to brief foreign officials on the PA’s position on possible future negotiations with Israel and toward the U.S. peace plan. Later in February, President Abbas met with European Union (EU) officials at the 1st EU-League of Arab States summit in Sharm al-Shaykh in Egypt on 24-25 February. Abbas called on European and Arab states to recognize Palestine, for an international peace conference, and for financial help to alleviate the economic difficulties that the Israeli tax deduction will bring the PA (see below). In a joint summit declaration, the Arab League and the EU called for a 2-state solution based on United Nations resolutions and international law.

                Secretary General Erakat also responded to a statement made by U.S. president Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor Jared Kushner in an interview with Sky News Arabia where he said, “We are trying to come up with realistic solutions that are relevant to the year 2019.” Erakat said in response that any plan that does not include a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital “is not worth discussing” (for more on the Kushner interview, see United States).


Foreign Trips

                Representatives from the PA, Fatah, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and Democratic Front for Liberation of Palestine met with Syrian officials to inaugurate PBS’s new offices in Damascus. The PA did not cut ties with the Bashar al-Asad regime after the Syrian civil war started. The opening of the PBS offices comes a month after Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir met with President al-Asad and the United Arab Emirates reopened its embassy in Damascus, which had been closed since 2012. In the beginning of March, PA president Abbas met with the Iraqi prime minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi and president Barham Saleh in Baghdad. After the meeting, President Abbas said that, “the current American administration is encouraging Israel to be a state above the law,” and held that the Trump administration “is biased and not suitable to be a sponsor of peace talks.” At the 151st Arab Foreign Ministers Council in Cairo, PA foreign minister Riyad Maliki urged members of the Arab League to be steadfast in confronting countries that have, or have expressed the will, to move their embassies to Jerusalem or recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.


Attorney General

                On 15 January, the Palestinian high court of justice temporarily suspended the PA’s attorney general, Ahmed Barrak, after a lawsuit was filed against him on the basis that he did not fulfill the requirements to hold the post. Barrak was appointed attorney general in 2016. On 12 March, Barrak was replaced by Acting Attorney General Akram Ismail Khatib.


Tax revenue

                In mid-February, the Israeli government said it was implementing a law passed in July 2018 that allows the Israeli government to withhold parts of the PA tax revenue collected by Israel. The law enables Israel to withhold funds amounting to what Israel believes the PA pays to Palestinians in Israeli prisons and their families. The PA perceives the payments to the Palestinian prisoners and their families as a welfare system necessary because of Israel’s arbitrary detention of Palestinians from the West Bank and East Jerusalem, causing many families to lose an income. Hanan Ashrawi issued a statement on behalf of the PLO Executive Committee, stating, “By giving itself license to confiscate Palestinian revenues, Israel is committing yet another act of illegality and economic aggression. Palestine will not submit to political and financial extortion and will continue to seek accountability for Israeli crimes.” PA president Mahmoud Abbas said in a Ramallah meeting that the Palestinian people and leadership “condemn and reject the arbitrary Israeli decision, and stress that we will not accept the money if even a cent is missing.” The Israeli deduction of the tax revenue amounts to roughly $140 million yearly. The tax revenue covers about 70 percent of PA public employees’ salaries. PA prime minister Rami Hamdallah confirmed by the end of February that the PA had returned the full amount of the tax revenue as Israel had made the deduction.

                As a result of the Israeli tax deduction, the PA finance minister Shukri Bishara said on 3/10 that the PA only would pay half the salaries of public servants. Finance Minister Bishara also said that most salary cuts would be made to high-salary officials and that no official would be paid less than $550.



                On 15 January, an incident involving Italian security guards believed to be Israeli undercover forces unfolded in Gaza. The Italians were in Gaza to prepare for a visit by the Italian ambassador to Israel. When they did not stop at a checkpoint and was seen with automatic weapons, they were pursued by Hamas forces until they reached the headquarters of the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process in Gaza City. According to Haaretz reports, the Italian security guards were interrogated by Hamas forces at the UN building and were released after contact was made between Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh and the Italian ambassador. The incident happened 2 months after undercover Israeli forces posing as NGO workers were discovered by Hamas in Gaza; that incident led to the killing of 1 Israeli soldier and 7 Palestinians. Hamas reportedly thought that the Italians were Israeli special ops forces like the Israelis in the November attack (for more, see Palestinian-Israeli Conflict 16 August-31 December 2018).

                A spokesperson for Hamas’ military wing Izzeddin al-Qassam Brigades said in a press conference that the Israeli undercover unit that was exposed in November 2018 left a “trove of information.” Hamas also released picture of some of the equipment left behind by the Israeli unit. The spokesperson further added that, “This mine of information that we seized will provide us strategic supremacy in the mind war we conduct against Israel.”

                Hamas political chief Ismail Haniyeh and other Hamas and PIJ representatives embarked to Cairo on 3 February for talks with Egyptian officials. Among the topics discussed were opening the Rafah crossing for traffic out of Gaza, Israel-Hamas relations, Fatah-Hamas reconciliation, and Haniyeh’s hope for a tour of Arab and Muslim countries. At the end of February, Egypt released 4 Hamas officers from Hamas’s naval commando forces. The 4 had been held since 2015 and it was speculated whether the release of the officers was part of preparations for a larger exchange of prisoners between Israel and Hamas to ease tension between the 2 parties.

                In mid-March, thousands of protesters took to the street to protest the high cost of living under the slogan “We Want to Live.” For several days, Hamas security forces violently suppressed demonstrations that started in Dayr al-Balah, but the protests quickly spread to numerous other cities and refugee camps. During the protests, more than 500 protesters were reportedly arrested, videos showed security forces beating protesters, and several journalists, researchers, and field officials from human rights organizations in Gaza were detained. The UN envoy to the Middle East, Nickolay Mladenov, condemned “the campaign of arrests and violence used by Hamas security forces against protesters, including women and children.” Hamas blamed Fatah for the protest, while Fatah officials denied allegations that the party had any involvement.

Palestinian Authority

New PA Prime Minister

                On 13 April, the Palestinian Authority (PA) president Mahmoud Abbas swore in 22 ministers in a new PA cabinet, which will be headed by Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh. The former cabinet was dissolved after the former prime minister Rami Hamdallah resigned in late January. 5 of the ministers in the new cabinet retained their positions and 17 ministers were not part of the former cabinet. Members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine boycotted the new government, citing that it will cause division among the Palestinian people.

“Peace to Prosperity” Workshop

                The PA was very clear in its condemnation of the Bahrain-U.S.-hosted “Peace to Prosperity” workshop, which took place on 25 June–26 June. When the workshop—which focused solely on the economic aspect of the U.S. peace plan—was announced on 19 May, Palestinian officials said that they had not been consulted about the workshop and warned that any solution must be political. In an op-ed published in the New York Times, Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) secretary-general Saeb Erakat laid out the argument for why the Palestinian leadership would not attend the workshop, writing: “[l]et us be clear: There will be no economic prosperity in Palestine without the end of the occupation.” Prime Minister Shtayyeh said to the New York Times that he was hoping that Arab countries would not partake in the workshop, adding that, “we know also that there are countries who are under serious pressure. Some can afford the pressure, and some cannot afford the pressure.” In June, after it was revealed that Egyptian and Jordanian officials would attend, the PA urged both to reconsider. No Palestinian or Israeli official was invited to the workshop, but businesspeople from both were. The PA urged all Palestinians to boycott the workshop. After the workshop ended, 1 Palestinian businessperson who attended was arrested by Palestinian security forces in Hebron. The man was released 2 days later. During the workshop in Bahrain, Palestinians in major cities throughout the West Bank protested the workshop and a general strike was observed in Gaza (for more on the “Peace to Prosperity” workshop, see United States).

Tax Revenue

                After the Israeli government in mid-February started implementing a law passed in July 2018 which allows the Israeli government to withhold parts of the PA tax revenue collected by Israel, the PA economy has been troubled. Israel has since been withholding funds amounting to what Israel believes the PA pays to Palestinians in Israeli prisons and their families, which is estimated to be $140 million yearly. In March, the PA started paying its public servants half their monthly salary, which continued throughout this quarter. The PA said from the beginning of Israel’s withholding of parts of the tax revenue that it would refuse to accept any of the revenue that is paid in part, a position that was reiterated several times this quarter. In May, the PA returned tax revenues transferred by Israel because it was not the full amount due; the PA also did so last quarter.

                By the end of the quarter, the governor of the Palestine Monetary Authority (PMA) warned that the suspension of U.S. aid coupled with the PA-Israeli dispute over the tax revenue had made the Palestinian financial situation on the brink of collapsing. PMA governor Azzam Shawwa said of the PA economy: “I don’t know where we are heading. This uncertainty makes it difficult to plan for tomorrow.” After several appeals from the PA leadership, the Arab League pledged to give the PA financial aid totaling $100 million a month in the form of grants and loans. The European Union similarly started providing financial aid for the pay of PA civil servants in April, amounting to $16.69 million a month. Qatar also contributed with $300 million to support the PA’s budget for health and education sectors in May.

Enriching the PA Leadership

                Leaked documents showed that the Palestinian cabinet in secret gave itself high payouts and financial perks, like a 67 percent pay raise. The United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov said in a tweet that he had spoken to PA prime minister Mohammed Shtayyeh about the issue and that Shtayyeh had committed to stop the practice and investigate the issue. Former prime minister Rami Hamdallah, who was prime minister when the raises were enacted in 2017, released a statement, saying, “[c]abinet ministers requested the raise in 2017 from President Abbas, who approved it while taking into consideration the rising cost of living.”


Palestine Liberation Organization

                PLO executive committee member Hanan Ashrawi was denied a visa to the U.S. on 13 May for a personal trip. In February, U.S. special representative for international negotiations Jason Greenblatt had tweeted to Ashrawi that she was “always welcome” to meet him at the White House. The U.S. State Department did not provide Ashrawi or the media a reason for the rejection of her visa request.



                In the beginning of this quarter, Hamas and Israel reached an understanding for a period of calm after intense bombardment of Gaza in late March. The Egyptian-mediated understanding included, according to Hamas’s political leader Yahya Sinwar, expansion of the list of items allowed into Gaza, easing restrictions on import and export, and for the mobility of traders. Sinwar also announced that Qatar will transfer $30 million a month to assist the impoverished until the end of 2019. On 20 June, the chairman of Hamas’s political bureau Ismail Haniyeh said that Israel was dragging its feet in implementing the agreements made earlier this quarter, specifically pointing to lack of freedom of movement.



                The Palestinian Authority (PA) president Mahmoud Abbas announced that he will set a date for elections in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and Gaza, during a speech at the United Nations (UN) General Assembly on 9/26. The last general elections were in 2006. In his speech, President Abbas asked the UN to monitor the process.

                After the PA ended all bilateral agreements with Israel in July (see below), President Abbas called on Hamas to revamp the reconciliation efforts. Hamas released a statement praising the PA for ending the agreements with Israel, calling it a step in the right direction.


Palestinian Authority

PA Response to Stalled Peace Process and Manama Workshop

                As any meaningful effort to advance the Palestinian-Israeli peace process remained completely stalled and peace process theatrics like the Manama Workshop, which ended during the final days of the last quarter, ended unfruitfully, the PA said it would negotiate with Israel and the United States (U.S.) under the condition of abiding by UN resolutions.


                On 7/22, Israel demolished 10 Palestinian-owned apartment buildings with 70 apartments in the Wadi Hummus area of Sur Bahir partly located in Area A and B, which is under PA jurisdiction on civil issues. The demolitions were widely condemned by the international community and the PA and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO called on the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the UN to investigate the incident as they believe the demolitions constitute a war crime under the 4th Geneva Convention. After the demolitions, the PA also responded to Israel’s transgressions of the Oslo agreement by saying that it no longer would recognize the division of the West Bank into areas A, B, and C as put forward by the Oslo Accords. The division was meant to be dissolved in 1999, but Israel never gave up its presence in areas B and C. The PA also said it would end all bilateral agreements with Israel, including security coordination.

                During Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s election campaign in September, he vowed to annex parts of the West Bank, including most of the Jordan Valley and all Israeli settlements, if he was reelected. In response, the PA government held its weekly cabinet meeting in Fasayil in the Jordan Valley. At the meeting, PA prime minister Mohammed Shtayyeh said that annexation would be “null and void” and complained that Netanyahu was out fishing for votes at the expense of Palestinians.

                In a last act of escalation of tensions this quarter, Israeli arrested PA Jerusalem minister Fadi Hidmi during a house raid, who was previously arrested by Israel in June. Jerusalem Minister Hidmi was arrested for “conducting political activity” in East Jerusalem, which Israel prohibits in the annex city. During a raid the same day, Israel also summoned PA governor of Jerusalem Adnan Ghaith for questioning as he was not home when the Israeli forces raided his home.

                A court in Israel also ruled that the PA could be held responsible for attacks on Israelis during the 2d intifada that it did not have any knowledge of before they were carried out. For more, see Israel.

Other Foreign Relations

                Several PA and PLO officials reached out to Lebanon on behalf of the Palestinian refugees in the country after the Lebanese government instituted new measures against foreign labor, which include Palestinian refugees despite many of them having been in the country since the Nakba. For more on the Lebanese measures on Palestinian refugee labor rights, see Lebanon.

                During a trip by U.S. congresspeople to Israel, some met with PA president Mahmoud Abbas, who explained why the PA has rejected the U.S. Trump administration’s approach to the peace process. The congresspeople were led the Democratic house minority leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD). A couple of days later, PA prime minister Mohammed Shtayyeh met with 37 members of congress in Ramallah.

Financial Troubles

                The financial crisis faced by the PA, in large part due to Israel withholding parts of the PA tax revenue and the PA refusing to take any if not all of the revenue, continued to affect Palestinian civil servants and retirees. In early August, the PA announced it would only pay its civil servants and retirees 60 percent of their July salaries due to the crisis, but no less than $554. This was the 6th month in a row that the PA paid deduced salaries. In late August, the PA announced it would pay its civil servants 60 percent of their salaries and add the 50 percent of their February salaries that was owed as a way to start paying back its employees and retirees. PA prime minister Mohammed Shtayyeh said the financial crisis had been mitigated but not resolved as the PA and Israel agreed to allow the PA to import fuel without taxation.

Striking Down an LGBTQ Event

                The PA police prevented the gay rights organization, Al Qaws, from organizing a “discussion-based event” in Nablus in late August. A police spokesperson said that Al Qaws’ activities are “a blow to, and violation of, the ideals and values of Palestinian society.” The PA does not have any laws preventing same-sex relations.



Attack on Hamas Police Officers

                2 suicide bombers blew up 2 Hamas-manned checkpoints in Gaza on 8/27, killing 3 Hamas police officers and wounding several others. According to BBC reports, at least 1 of the attackers had recently been released from prison and was detained for being a member of the Islamic State. Israel denied involvement; Islamic Jihad condemned the attack. After the attack, Hamas rounded up a number of Palestinians suspected of being “Salafi activists.” By the end of the quarter, it was unclear if the 2 attackers were acting alone or part of a group.


                On 8/22, the Qatari envoy to Palestine Mohammad al-Emadi arrived in Gaza to talk with Hamas officials about the continued aid to Palestinians in Gaza and funding for infrastructure projects. A week after the meetings, it was announced that Qatar would cut its funding of fuel for the Gaza power plant, leaving Palestinians in Gaza with 5-6 hours of electricity a day, down from 8. Qatar did not explain the reason for the decision, but Haaretz sources in Gaza speculated that either Israel was using Qatar to pressure Hamas or Qatar was upset by Hamas stipulations on funding for the infrastructure projects.


                A former Hamas minister of the interior and current member of the politburo Fathi Hammad said in a speech on 7/12 that Palestinians abroad “must attack every Jew on the globe by way of slaughter and killing, if God permits.” Hammad’s statements were rebuffed by Hamas, saying that they do not represent the positions of the movement, and PLO secretary-general Saeb Erekat called the statements repugnant.


                Hamas-Israeli relations remained relatively restrained after an extended calm was reached on 6/28 after UN and Egyptian mediation. However, on 7/11, Israel shot and killed a 28-year-old member of Hamas in Gaza by the Gaza fence, which according to Israel was a “mistake.” The man was shot while he was turning Palestinians away from the Gaza fence to prevent Israel from violently responding to their protest. Hamas said the incident would not “pass by without response,” and Islamic Jihad called the killing a “grave escalation.” Hamas has been policing the area by the Gaza fence to maintain the calm with Israel. While the rest of July remained relatively calm, August saw a rise in violence as 3 Palestinians were shot and killed by the Gaza fence and rockets were launched both ways in 3 separate instances. The rockets were not launched by Hamas and individuals reaching the Gaza fence did so without coordination with Hamas. On 8/19, Gaza factions released a statement warning Israel that Gaza is “a volcano that is about to erupt.” After rockets were launched at Israel on 8/26, Israel decided as collective punishment to cut the oil allowed to enter Gaza for its power plant in half, severely impacting the amount of electricity Palestinians in Gaza could consume. As the situation remained tense through September, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu acknowledged that Hamas was not behind the attacks but said they would continue to hit Hamas infrastructures as they held the party responsible for the attacks. Prime Minister Netanyahu also said that Israel might have to go to war with Hamas if it continued to fail in restraining other factions in Gaza, a threat that could be attributed to the upcoming Israeli elections, which is always accompanied by aggressive rhetoric and actions by Israel’s right.

Military Drill

                Hamas carried out a military drill closing down large sectors of Gaza, including the sea for fishermen, on 7/9. The Hamas interior ministry said the drill was carried out to test the readiness of its troops in case of a surprise threat.

Quarterly Updates for (1 Jan 1970 — 1 Jan 1970)



                The Palestinian Authority (PA) president Mahmoud Abbas announced that he will set a date for elections in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and Gaza, during a speech at the United Nations (UN) General Assembly on 9/26. The last general elections were in 2006. In his speech, President Abbas asked the UN to monitor the process.