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Hamas and Fatah Inch Closer to Civil War

In a move that displayed just about the only thing the two groups have been able to agree upon in recent weeks, armed groups from both Hamas and Fatah threatened the Palestinian banks on Sunday, causing the banks to acquiesce and begin paying PA government employees’ salaries. PA government salaries have been unpaid for the three months since the Hamas electoral victory.

Haaretz reports that 40,000 of the 165,000 PA employees are to begin receiving interest-free loans for the equivalent of one month’s salary. A Reuters report offers more detail, stating that the Bank of Palestine began paying the 10,300 lowest-earning employees, while other Palestinian banks will begin paying the next 30,000 employees Monday.

Curiously, the BBC chose a headline that read “Hamas to pay salaries on Monday”. Clearly, it is not the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority that is paying the salaries, however. The banks are paying the salaries under threat of Hamas (and Fatah) gunmen via loans against expected PA remittances.

The total breakdown of the Palestinian system may be at hand, as armed groups take time out from fighting each other in wars of words and bullets long enough to squeeze banks to replace government funds to compensate unpaid workers. It is a dire situation by all accounts. But the pause in what is rapidly escalating towards an all-out civil war is just that, a pause.

With tensions high, a new 2,500-man Fatah militia was deployed in Jenin in the West Bank. Known as the “Special Protection Unit”, it is another countering force to the PRC-led force deployed by Hamas in Gaza as the battle lines seem to be increasingly drawn.

As this new force was deployed, Hamas and Fatah meetings over recognition of and negotiation with Israel broke with anger, resentment and mistrust higher than ever. Hamas accused Abbas of attempting a “bloodless coup” in threatening a referendum vote if Hamas did not agree to recognize Israel and begin negotiations, as agreed to by various imprisoned terrorist leaders in the Barghouti peace plan.

Abbas had given Hamas a 10-day window to come to agreement or the referendum would be put in motion. That window is due to expire Monday night, and Abbas is said to be determined to see it through “at any price.”

Hamas knows that the referendum would be precisely the “bloodless coup” they refer to it as because the Palestinian people, many of them unpaid since Hamas has taken their elected offices and all of them experiencing increased hardship and violence, would likely overwhelmingly support it. This would erode Hamas’ political capital and bring the Hamas-led government to a crashing halt.

Both Abbas and Hamas knew the muscle Abbas was flexing when he first threatened the referendum. Its execution will be a potentially unrecoverable blow to Hamas as a political entity in its current form and its violent resistance to it is nearly inevitable. The fielding of the new “Special Protection Unit” in Jenin likely had this squarely in mind.