In the midst of an ongoing fuel crisis in March, Qatar agreed to donate the funds necessary to supply Gaza with fuel for three months. The Qatari fuel donation, valued around US$32 million which was part of wider Qatari support of Hamas ran out last week. The end of Qatari donated fuel- delivered by Israel through the Kerem Shalom crossing – spurred the closure of Gaza’s only power plant, leaving Gaza’s residents without sufficient electricity and subject to long periods of blackouts.
This development was nothing new. Hamas-ruled Gaza has frequently experienced energy and fuel crises.
Despite ample financial aid from Iran, Qatar and other friendly governments and NGOs, Hamas had refused to purchase fuel from Israel, despite it being offered at market prices – preferring to smuggle it through tunnels connected to Egypt. Hamas has also in the past refused to purchase fuel from the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority, which had offered to sell it to the government in Gaza, but at inflated prices.
Hamas’ intransigence has caused immense suffering for the Gaza population over the years. However, officials and friends of the Hamas government don’t live the harsh reality of Gaza’s fuel shortage experienced by the Gazan population at large. As PA minister Mahmoud Habbash noted during a similar fuel crisis in 2012:
“There are leaders in Hamas who do not pay for their electricity. They light their homes and install floodlights at the expense of the people. Hamas institutions and offices use electricity at the expense of the people. This is the real reason for the suffering. The electricity crisis in Gaza stems from the audacity of Hamas . . .”
The establishment of a PA unity government seems to have opened the possibility of buying fuel from Israel – a shift from Hamas policy of the past. Indeed, today it was reported that Gaza would now buy its fuel from Israel – however the amount to be imported remains insufficient. The perpetuation of the fuel shortage has led to the pile up of garbage and the halting of work at sewage treatment facilities. The dire sewage situation has rendered Gaza’s beaches un-swimmable.
Gaza’s fuel issues are in addition to the woes Gazans faced earlier this month due to a Hamas ordered closure of all Gaza banks – preventing ordinary Gazans from collecting salaries and withdrawing money – an action taken in protest of the government in Ramallah’s refusal to pay the salaries of 40,000 Hamas clerks and security personnel.
Despite the establishment of a PA unity government, it seems that Gaza’s problems will continue. All evidence suggests that Gaza will remain under the de facto control of Hamas- an organization that is still more interested in investing in armed struggle and destruction of Israel than it is in the welfare of the Palestinian people. Meanwhile the new Rami Hamdallah led unity government has pursued no feasible strategies to deal with the fuel crisis.