ISIS And Corruption Undermine Hamas Rule In Gaza

Hamas, the Islamist group that governs Gaza, is now facing a challenge from Islamic State insurgents and growing disenchantment with its leadership.

Members of the Palestinian Hamas security forces parading in Gaza on June 16
Members of the Palestinian Hamas security forces parading in Gaza on June 16
Piotr Smolar

GAZA CITY â€" On May 26, a rocket landed in the middle of a field. On June 3, there were two others. And another on June 6. Each time, Israeli forces retaliated immediately, striking targets in Gaza. Though no victims were reported on either side, these strikes reflect a new period of restlessness in the region after nine months of relative quiet.

And yet Hamas, which has governed Gaza since 2007, is not behind these attacks, as Israel itself has acknowledged. Such isolated initiatives are not in its interests. They are instead proof of the tensions between the armed Islamist groups and the self-affirmation of a Salafist branch. The latest strike was claimed Sunday by a group of ISIS supporters in Jerusalem.

The presence of such a Salafist pocket is in itself not new. Along the years, Hamas has swayed between tolerance and repression of such splinter groups. But since the summer of 2014 war, a handful of militants have decided to take armed action and align itself with ISIS. They, for instance, claimed a mortar attack against a base belonging to the al-Qassam Brigades, the military branch of Hamas, in Khan Yunis, as well as a bombing in front of a security forces building in Gaza. In retaliation, Hamas arrested a dozen sympathizers.

“We will not allow anyone to put the interior security at risk,” declared Mahmoud al-Zahar, a top Hamas leader.

It’s impossible to measure the Salafist influence, especially as some activists could be former, disillusioned members of Hamas. But it is clear now that concerted violence can arrive now from multiple quarters.

Secret Hamas-Israel channel

Weakened by “Operation Protective Edge” during the summer of 2014, Hamas is not looking for confrontation with the Jewish state. It has too much to do to keep the territory under control and handle the reconciliation with the Palestinian Authority (PA).

“Hamas doesn’t act, it reacts, according to exterior factors such as Egypt, Iran or Israel,” says Omar Shaban, director of the Pal-Think center in Gaza. “I don’t think they’re interested in a new confrontation. They would even sign a long-term ceasefire with Israel if it was on the table.”

For the past two months, secret communications between Hamas and Israel have been mentioned in the press, which has enraged Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who suspects Israel is trying to deepen the gap between Gaza and the West Bank, to prevent the emergence of a Palestinian state. In mid-May, the Jordanian newspaper Al-Dustour mentioned a Turkish mediation, which was summarized like this: a five-year ceasefire in exchange for the construction of a floating port off the Gaza coast.

The Israelis enjoy biding their time while the Palestinian divisions multiply, but they also know violence blooms with despair. On May 27, Israel's Head of State Reuven Rivlin even stated he did not “recoil at the idea of negotiating with any willing party.” It’s impossible to imagine a public agreement between a right-wing Benjamin Netanyahu government and Hamas.

And yet, one well-placed European source said informal discussions between the two parties continue on prisoner swaps and an easing of the blockade in exchange for Hamas guarantees of peace.

Regaining strength amid the ruins

But don't bet on a farewell to arms. Hamas is looking to regain strength amid the ruins. Ahmed Yousef, one of the reformist figures of the movement, says the power of war culture remains an obstacle to Hamas' evolution. “Some people here have never left Gaza, they think the world revolves around it. They see negotiations as a dirty word. But others think a long-term ceasefire could give hope to the people, hope for a fairly normal life.”

The leaders of Hamas recognize this prospect: Over the past several months, Israel has loosened its grip, letting more material and people circulate. The drip is keeping the patient in a stable state of survival.

But Hamas has other worries, including talks over national reconciliation with their Palestinian Authority counterparts in the West Bank, which have been frozen, as all sides appear unwilling to give ground.

And elections? Everyone demands them but no one actually wants them. “Abbas decided not to organize them, especially since the result of the vote at the Birzeit University on April 22, in the West Bank, when Hamas won,” says Basem Naim, a Hamas executive. In reality, both sides currently lack democratic credentials. When Fatah won the elections at the Bar Association, in early April, the vote was suspended by Hamas.

Cleaning house

In addition to the history of violence between both parties â€" arrests, torture and even executions â€" the question of public sector employees adds to the tension. The revision of security services has been carefully postponed.

But the administrations still need to be cleaned. After Hamas’ rise to power in 2007, thousands of employees of the Palestinian Authority were still being paid without doing anything. Today, these workforces (20,000 for Hamas and 28,000 for the Authority) need to be reviewed.

Hamas accused the Palestinian Authority of being engaged in double dealing and profiting from the reconstruction of post-war Gaza. “Half the already distributed donors’ money went into their pockets,” says Mahmoud al-Zahar. “Since then, no one knows where it ended up. In these conditions, why would donors keep their promises?”

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.

It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park


Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!