Israel should act to prevent a humanitarian crisis in Gaza for “humanitarian and strategic reasons,” a former high-ranking security official told journalists on Wednesday.
Maj. Gen. (ret.) Amos Gilad, who served as director of Policy and Political-Military Affairs at Israel’s Ministry of Defence and now chairs the annual Herzliya Conference, said that despite Hamas’s wish to eradicate Israel, the Jewish state must provide enough electricity to preserve the lives of civilians in the beleaguered territory, which it withdrew from 12 years ago.
“Israel does its best to support the Palestinians there as people,” Gilad told journalists in a conference call organized by the Israel Project, a Jerusalem-based non-profit that supports media coverage of Israel. “We can’t cooperate with Hamas because Hamas is determined to exterminate Israel. It’s not propaganda; they say it and they mean it and they implement it as [best] they can.”
The recent decision by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to stop reimbursing Israel for electricity supplied to Gaza has left Israel in a dilemma. Should it support its political and security partner in Ramallah, or shun Abbas and avert the risk of a humanitarian catastrophe or potential war in Hamas-held Gaza?
Last week, as Palestinians marked a decade since Hamas’s violent takeover of the Gaza Strip, Israel obliged Abbas in his bid to isolate his political rivals. By sharply reducing the monthly supply of 125 megawatts of electricity to Gaza, Israel will leave Gazans with only two to four hours of electricity a day, down from the current six.
Israeli human rights watchdog Gisha, which monitors the situation in Gaza, sent an urgent letter to Defence Minister Avigdor Liberman, pleading with him to reverse the decision.
“Reducing the supply of electricity is a red line that should not be crossed,” the organisation wrote. “This suggestion should be taken off the table entirely. Action must be taken to bring Gaza’s infrastructure to a level that meets the needs of its residents.”
The group noted that with Gaza’s sole power plant out of commission due to a financial dispute between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority (PA), Israel currently provides 80-100% of Gaza’s electricity, with the rest coming from Egypt. Gaza’s hospitals have already cut vital services, and sewage purification plants have been forced to shut down, funnelling 100 million liters of mostly untreated sewage into the Mediterranean every day.
Gilad chose instead to focus on Hamas’s responsibility for the looming crisis.
“They can use the money they do have to finance electricity and relief for the population, but they prioritise the [terror] tunnels in preparation for attacking Israel and murdering Israelis,” he said.
“My recommendation to ourselves in Israel is to prevent a humanitarian crisis, because a humanitarian crisis is chaos and we need to avoid it,” he said.
Meanwhile, Hamas responded last Thursday to Israeli reports that Abbas was considering declaring the Gaza Strip a “rebellious region”, a de-facto declaration of war on the regime.
Al-Resalah, a Gaza-based pro-Hamas newspaper, interviewed legal expert Abdul Karim Shabir, who speculated that such a decision would enable Israel to militarily attack Gaza more easily. In a separate article, the newspaper accused Fatah and Israel of colluding to strangle the Strip.
“The PA’s wish to exacerbate the crisis of the Gaza Strip has become apparent recently, especially following the visit of a Hamas delegation to Egypt where they discussed pending issues,” the paper wrote. “This has infuriated the PA, given its bid to isolate Hamas diplomatically.”
It is still unclear whether Abbas’s move is aimed at forcing Hamas to yield power to the PA in the Gaza Strip, or whether it is essentially punitive in nature. As Gilad pointed out, Hamas had recently tried to stage a coup d’état in the West Bank and “send Abu Mazen (Abbas) to hell.” The conspiracy was thwarted by Israeli intelligence.
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat called on Hamas last week to “end the catastrophic coup” in Gaza, stating that Hamas rule poses “a real threat to the Palestinian national project”.
Hamas, for its part, has so far shown little intent on changing course. “Hamas warns against the Israeli policy of pushing Gaza against the wall,” tweeted Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri on 14 June. “It calls on the international community to act, and stresses that this disastrous policy will not burn Palestinians alone in its fire.” He also called on Israel to continue supplying electricity to Gaza, and to deduct the cost from the $75 million in taxes it collects for the PA every month.
While Gilad said the likelihood of another war with Gaza this summer was low, due to Israel’s effective deterrence, he was pessimistic about the Strip’s future more generally.
“As long as Hamas is responsible for Gaza, I see no rosy horizon for the Palestinians there,” he said.
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Gaza electricity crisis: when Hamas and the Palestinian Authority clash, Israel wins – Jack Khoury – Haaretz 14.06.17
Granted, the Palestinians’ political schism and power struggles are worsening the Strip’s humanitarian crisis. But it is Israel that denies freedom of movement by land, sea and air to over 2 million Gazans. [14/15 June 2017 marked the 10th anniversary of Hamas’ accession to power and Israel’s imposition of the Gaza blockade.]
Another Gaza war looming? We’ll manage – Einav Schiff – Ynetnews 16.06.17
According to the state comptroller’s report, the cabinet failed to look into diplomatic alternatives to the last Gaza war. The tune sounds familiar.
Related: If Israel were smart about Gaza