Analysis
State of the Unity: PA-Hamas, One Year Later

On April 1, 2014, the PA broke the Oslo Accords by applying to UN agencies. In one year, nothing - and everything - has changed.

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Tova Dvorin,

Hamas, Fatah officials celebrate unity (archive)
Hamas, Fatah officials celebrate unity (archive)
Reuters

On April 1, 2014, Palestinian Authority (PA) Chairman Mahmoud Abbas breached the conditions of the peace talks by signing a request to join several UN agencies, a move which also formed the gateway for the Hamas-PA unity government.

Analysts throughout Spring 2014 predicted the possibility of a great legal war being launched against Israel, with the PA expected to apply for legitimacy and demand Israel withdraw from its own land in Judea-Samaria. 

But one year later, the State of the Unity is - like the PA itself - barely sustainable.  

The PA: not careful with what it wished for

As of April 1, 2015, the PA has been accepted to the International Criminal Court (ICC), the latest in a string of acceptances to several different UN agencies. In May, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon formally endorsed the "State of Palestine's" acceptance to 15 agencies, ten of which were co-signed by the UN - and many of which were concerned with human rights. 

But the move has also paved the way for the PA to bear the legal brunt of its terrorism against Israel - and the evidence and condemnations have accumulated.  

Since the declaration, Shurat HaDin – Israel Law Center has already launched lawsuits against Abbas and Hamas leaders at the ICC. 

In February, a groundbreaking New York court ruling found the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Palestinian Authority (PA) liable for terrorist attacks during the PA terror campaign of 2000-2005; the PLO admitted in March that it can't pay the damages.

Days later, Amnesty International released a report demonstrating how Palestinian Arab terrorist groups in Gaza committed war crimes during Operation Protective Edge.

The PA's decision only continues to backfire, with a Palestinian Arab source admitting in a Maariv interview earlier Wednesday that there is a great possibility that the ICC bid will backfire. 

"Palestinians can make a claim against the settlements, but it's doubtful that a claim regarding the recent war in Gaza won't bring about a counter-suit from Israel, which is preparing for this," the source said. 

"The Israelis have prepared stacks of paperwork on conduct during Operation Protective Edge, including claims of Hamas rocket fire and Palestinian groups shooting from schools and other civilian buildings. This could lead to a suit against Hamas leaders who control the Gaza Strip," the source added.

Budgetary crisis

Shortly after Abbas announced the Oslo Accords breach, Israel leveled sanctions and punitive measures against the PA, as well as thecessation of all governmental ties with PA officials.

Since then, Israel had also levied a far-reaching tax revenue freeze on the PA - a move which was lifted this week, but may have had long-lasting effects. 

In March 2014, Ramallah announced it had reached a staggering $4.8 billion in debt, with a 2014 budgetary deficit of $1.5 billion.

While blaming Israel for the PA’s financial woes, Abbas continues to spend six percent of the PA’s annual budget to pay $4.5 million a month to jailed terrorists and another $6.5 million to their families.

The PA also owes over 1.8 billion shekels ($450 million) in electric debts, leading the IEC to cut electricity in the Jenin and Shechem regions on February 23, 2015 for 45 minutes, and on February 25 again for a brief period. A temporary settlement was reached between the IEC and the PA the following day; weeks later, the PA finally folded and called for electric payments - a rare concession. 

More recently, Abbas cut the salaries of tens of thousands of PA workers by 40% - a move which has the IDF on high alert for escalation of violence in the PA and in Judea-Samaria. The PA has repeatedly asked for foreign donations, claiming it is on the verge of collapse due to a worsening financial crisis.

The wage war has also run deep, and cracked the facade of the unity government from the PA to Gaza.

'Unity' government divided against itself

Tensions in the wage war began with the PA-Hamas unity deal in April, after which Hamas's 40,000 employees in Gaza still were not paid backlogged wages by the new unity government even as the PA's 70,000 employees in Gaza continue to be paid.

The rage boiled over into violence, with Hamas eventually shutting down all the banks in Gaza for roughly a week, until in June a financial bail-out from Qatar temporarily stemmed the crisis; however, Hamas's launching a terror war on Israel early in July apparently put off the salary payments even further.

But the so-called "unity government" has been divided on the diplomatic and political front as well - with Hamas and PA's Fatah rarely agreeing on key issues. 

Despite the unity agreement, the PA has continuously arrested members of Hamas in the PA-assigned areas of Judea and Samaria.

The reconciliation attempt has been rocked by tensions, most notably Hamas's attempt to stage a violent coup in Judea and Samaria against the Palestinian Authority. 

Hamas has also refused the PA's demands that it let it supervise rebuilding in Gaza - furthering sowing discord between the two factions.

And in November, Hamas denied launching bomb attacks on homes of Fatah leaders in Gaza, with around ten explosions coming just days ahead of a Fatah rally in memorial of former Palestinian Authority (PA) Chairman Yasser Arafat that was cancelled after Hamas said it couldn't promise security.

The attempt has also been marked by a profound instability - with it being perpetually unclear whether the government still stands. 

Hamas spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri said in December that the six-month mandate of the unity government agreed on in April and established in June had ended.

Yet, just last month, Hamas declared in a secret document being forged between the terror state and UN officials that it would recommit itself to unity - and made surprising concessions to the PA. 

What lies ahead?

Earlier Wednesday, one year after the "unity government"'s establishment, France announced that it would present a meaningful step towards actualizing the PA's long list of unmet goals: forcing Israel to withdraw from 1949 Armistice lines. 

The Security Council in December rejected a resolution that would have set a deadline for reaching a final peace deal and pave the way to the creation of a Palestinian state - but Paris is reportedly hopeful that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's recent re-election, and the cold reception it received from the international community, will push the UN into action. 

On the political front, Hamas's recent declaration of support for Fatah could hold weight in such a discussion, with the international community disappointed with how the "unity" government has fared thus far.

However, in reality, the future of the government still hangs in the balance.

Recent polls suggest that the Palestinian Arab public is split between support for Hamas and Fatah, with allegiance to Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh and Abbas at near-equal levels in both the PA and Gaza. 

And despite the facade of unity presented after elections, Abbas has already called on Arab states to attack Hamas in the same spirit of the joint effort to fight Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere.

Hamas may be getting stronger, and a coup over the next year could be a possibility. Not only do most Palestinian Arabs believe in the organization's policies of violence resistance or "peaceful resistance" through rioting, according to that poll, but the breakdown of security coordination within the PA has led to violent uprisings in Jenin and other terror strongholds. The IDF and the Israel Security Agency (ISA or Shin Bet) coordinated the prevention of the Hamas coup in summer 2014, and without Israel's security, the PA could find itself overwhelmed. 

Will Hamas's violence spill over? Will Abbas's bids to international agencies change the balance of power? Or is something else in store?

If 2014 - a year of war, breakdowns in talks, and financial ruin for the PA - did not change the relationship between Hamas and Fatah, then the answer may be: not that much.