TEL AVIV — In recent days we have been witnessing growing discontent among Hamas public employees in Gaza who have not been paid their salaries. The situation endangers the coalition government between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, and it is without exaggeration to say that the non-payment by the government in Ramallah could restart the rocket fire from Gaza.
Last Thursday, after more than three months of waiting in vain for salaries to come from Ramallah, Hamas decided to pay its workers in Gaza from its own reserves a minimum wage of 1000 shekels ($275). This is blatant proof of a deepening crisis between the two Palestinian camps.
Looking back, it is obvious now that it was a major budgetary crisis inside the Hamas government last spring that made them accept a coalition government.
Can Qatar help?
Last week, Rami Hamdallah, the Palestinian Authority’s prime minister, said that his government has not been able to operate from its offices in Gaza since Hamas officers are not cooperating. "The banks are not willing to transfer money to Hamas out of fear of being boycotted," said Hamdallah. "Even my government is threatening not to send money to Hamas employees."
Leaders from Qatar have promised to transfer money for the salaries, but since Hamas is considered a terrorist organization, whoever might transfer the money risks an international boycott.
Excerpts of the meeting were published in Lebanese newspaper Al Akhbar:
Mashal: "Abbas, you must take matters into your own hands and order your government to pay the employees (of Hamas in Gaza)."
Abbas: "It is a tough issue, and it’s on our agenda."
Mashal: "How is it possible that people are not being paid?"
Abbas: "What are you, a beggar?" (Meaning, don’t you have money to pay them?)
Mashal: "You have to solve that problem immediately, let the people live."
Abbas: "I have no way of doing that."
It does not look like Mashal’s demands are being fulfilled. The government in Ramallah has enough difficulties paying its own 150,000 employees, of which 70,000 are in Gaza. There is no way they can add another 45,000 salaries.
All of this leaves the coalition government of Hamas and the Palestinian Authority extremely fragile, and does not allow it to operate normally. A collapse of the coalition could come next, and the crisis that would follow could reignite the missile fire from Gaza.