Barely a week after the national unity government was sworn in, the reconciliation efforts appear to be teetering on the brink over who should pay the salaries of 50,000 Hamas-appointed civil servants in Gaza.
On Monday, a senior Hamas official voiced fears over the fate of the Palestinian reconciliation deal after the new government failed to pay salaries for employees originally hired by the former Hamas government that ruled Gaza during the years of the political split.
“I’m afraid that the problem ushers in a more difficult phase,” said Khalil Al-Hayya, a senior Hamas official, at a news conference in Gaza City.
Following a cabinet meeting on Tuesday, Labour Minister, Mamoun Abu Shahla told reporters: “There are promises to reslove the crisis in days.”
In April 23, the Hamas-led government in Gaza and the PLO, dominated by President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party, reached a reconciliation pact to form a unity government which will pave the way for elections of a new president and parliament.
After taking over Gaza by force in 2007, Hamas formed a government to rule the coastal enclave and had to fill in thousands of government posts left vacant after the PA instructed its employees not to work under Hamas authority and stay home.
The issue represents a tough challenge the new government had to address immediately.
Two days after Abbas sworn in the new government, salary checks for the month of May were deposited in the accounts of the Gaza-based, PA-appointed civil servants. Those employees serving under former Hamas government, however, were not paid.
In response, on June 4, a Hamas-affiliated police force closed banks and prevented PA-appointed employees from withdrawing their money at ATM machines.
“What I understand is that the police forces are in the service of the people, here they are preventing us from getting our salaries,” said one PA employee who asked that his name be held. “I have nine children,” said the 43-year-old man. “We have been waiting for this salary day by day for a month.”
On the other hand, Hamas-appointed employees protested what they describe as discriminatory measures by the new government against them.
Banks in Gaza remain closed for the sixth day in a row, prompting warnings of a possible collapse in public services and other economic sectors due to the suspension of financial transactions.
Walid Hosary of Gaza’s Chamber of Commerce said in a statement that the closure of banks “adds to the suffering endured by palestinians working in private sector.”
Hosary explained that businessmen and merchants would not be able to import goods into Gaza because they can’t transfer money outside Gaza. “The companies working with Gaza merchants will no longer trust them,” he said.
Al-Hayya, however epressed disappointment that the first obstacle on the road to reconcilation would impact people’s livelihood. He emphasised the right of the Hamas-appointed employees to equal treatment. “This is a government for everybody; it’s not an extension to the West Bank or the Gaza (previous) governments.”
Al-Hayya stressed that Hamas was determined to go ahead with reconciliation efforts and that it will continue to remove obstacles until elections are held. “We will not go back on reconciliation; we have ended the division forever.”
Etemad Tarashawi, a Hamas employee, taking part in the protest alongside dozens of her colleagues, said that the new government should look for resources and make sure that all people are paid.
“We want the reconciliation to succeed, but the national consensus government threw it to the wind,” she added. “I’m against closing the banks, but I’m also for the right of employees to get paid.”
Other employees think the new government should be allowed more time to prepare the financial data of all civil servants who were previously paid through Hamas-run banks.
Government spokesperson, Ihab Bessisso, said the government “is reviewing every solution to achieve justice for everybody.”
“The government drew up mechanisms to merge Palestinian institutions during this transitional period, including the forming of a legal, administrative committee to study the status of all employees,” he said in a statement issued on Monday.