Israel Imposes Restrictions on Hamas-led PA
With the swearing in of the new Palestinian Parliament with a Hamas majority, Israel has decided to enact several measures against the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said in announcing the new restrictions that ”the PA is in practice becoming a terrorist authority. The State of Israel will not agree to this.” Most significant was the termination of the regular monthly transfers of tax collections to the Palestinian Authority, normally ranging between $50-60 million per month. Also included in the new restrictions:
- Removal of VIP status for PA officials traveling between Gaza and the West Bank.
- Increased checkpoint security restricting travel between the Palestinian Territories
- Banning of transfers of arms into the PA security forces
Hamas dismissed the new Israeli restrictions and some members of the Quartet (EU, UN, US & Russia) have expressed opposition to the Israeli move to cut funds now, stating that the agreement was to leave transfers in place until the government is actually formed, with heads of ministries named and sworn in. Saturday, the newly elected officials were sworn into office as Ministers of Parliament, but an official government has not yet been formed.
The Quartet had not expressed opposition to an Israeli revenue transfer cutoff after such point. In short order, a government will definitely be formed and it will be dominated by Hamas. That much is certain. That Israel would be forced to otherwise fund them until such official time makes little sense other than semantics.
An unnamed diplomat said, “Israel broke with the Quartet position. Now I don’t know if there will be a unified Quartet position.” But that ‘unified Quartet position’ had already been undermined with the Russian invitation of Hamas to Moscow, a move supported by France.
On its way to Moscow for the Monday meetings, the Hamas delegation led by Khaled Mashaal stopped in Tehran soliciting Iranian support. Hamas leader Ghazi Hamad said, ”We will not reject any assistance from any country - Iran or any other. Our delegation was in Teheran today and will be in Moscow tomorrow. We will try to look for political and financial support.” Saudi Arabia has already pledged to pay three-quarters of the tuition for Palestinian students through a $15 million grant. The kind of education that Hamas wants to ensure for its children is in line with the kind of Wahabi education Saudi Arabia has traditionally supported externally, such as through the grants to Pakistani madrassas.
Meanwhile, in both the West Bank and Gaza, Palestinian terrorist operations and Israeli counterterrorism operations continue unabated. In Gaza, two members of the Popular Resistance Committee were killed by an Israeli attack helicopter missile strike as they attempted to plant a bomb near the southern Gaza security fence. The strike drew outrage from Palestinians, but the Palestinian Police confirmed that a bomb had been found near where the missile strike took place. From northern Gaza, another Kassam rocket was fired into Israel, but it errantly landed harmlessly on the desert floor.
In Nablus, in what is called a ‘widespread operation’, IDF forces rolled into Nablus and entered a number of refugee camps, including the Balatah refugee camp. The latest reports indicate that two Palestinians were killed, including a member of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and 12 arrested. Fierce gun battles have erupted, including bombs detonated near Israeli troops, Molotov cocktails and stone throwing. The Nablus operation, called “Zohar Tsfoni” (“Northern Splendor”), is expected to continue for several days. On Friday, IDF Forces arrested 10 Islamic Jihad terrorists in operations near Jenin.
There may be a new government taking shape in the Palestinian Territories, but while the political and economic developments have taken center stage, on the ground, it continues to be ‘business as usual’ for both sides.