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Friday, February 17, 2012

Hamas using electricity crisis to cement its independence from Ramallah

For the past week, I've been reporting that the current power crisis in Gaza is wholly Hamas' fault. It was Hamas that started refusing to take in any heavy-duty diesel from Israel a year ago and it is Hamas that refuses to accept fuel from Israel today - fuel that could turn the power plant on and provide hospitals, water treatment plants and other important infrastructure running in Gaza.

The question is - why? Why is Hamas willing to gamble with the lives of its citizens this way?

Yesterday, the Gaza health minister issued an appeal:
The Palestinian Minister of Health in Gaza, Dr Bassem Naim, is to declare a state of emergency in Gaza's hospitals due to acute power cuts and fuel shortages.

The Health Minister called for an immediate intervention to restore fuel supplies to the Gaza Strip. He appealed to the Egyptian leadership and parliament - the People's Assembly - to provide the necessary fuel to Gaza and to work toward resolving this recurrent problem.
Over the past year, Hamas has relied on smuggled fuel, going through inconsistent suppliers and being locally purified in Gaza, to run the power plant. It seems to be a very inefficient method to run the electric grid of a quasi-nation. Hate for Israel does't explain this completely, as plenty of other aid - including cooking gas - is arriving in Gaza from Israel every day.

It can be assumed that Hamas was trying to show that it can run its own infrastructure without help from either Israel or the PA. In other words, Hamas wants to act like - and be treated like - its own nation.

With the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, which soundly trounced all opponents in the parliamentary elections, Hamas has a friendly neighbor with which it can establish "international" relations.

Already, Hamas extracted a promise that Egypt would build electric lines to Gaza. Hamas managed to get the post-Mubarak leadership to open the Rafah border, bypassing Ramallah. Gaza officials now regularly travel around the world by going through Egypt. Egypt is even considering adding a regular direct flight from El Arish to Mecca to accommodate Gaza pilgrims (there have only been chartered flights between the two destinations so far.)

It looks like Hamas is using the humanitarian argument to secure an Egyptian pledge to permanently provide fuel to the Gaza area.  Hamas is explicitly calling on Egypt to promise to provide Gaza with a consistent, reliable supply of fuel - but not as charity, but as a signed agreement between peers.

I think we can expect to see future agreements from a sympathetic Muslim Brotherhood-run Egypt where the Rafah crossing is expanded to allow much larger quantities of goods to travel through without the need for smuggling tunnels, but as normal trade. All of this will cut the PA out completely.