from Pressure Points and Middle East Program

Hamas’s War for Cash

August 5, 2014

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Nowadays most of the press takes for granted the demands for a "Marshall Plan" for Gaza, rehabilitation of Gaza, and payment of salaries for civil servants. The humanitarian needs of the people of Gaza are very great, but take another look: it seems this war was started by Hamas because it was short of cash.

It’s well known that Iran’s payments to Hamas were diminished or eliminated when Hamas -which is Sunni- sided with the Sunni rebels in Syria against Iran’s ally, the Assad regime, It is also clear that the Egyptian army has taken serious actions to close down the vast network of smuggling tunnels from Gaza into Sinai, which Hamas taxed to produce much of its income. The result was a fiscal disaster for Hamas, visible in the fact that it has been unable to pay salaries to its people. There are a remarkable 43,000 people on the Hamas payroll in Gaza, of whom about 13,000 are men under arms.

So what did Hamas do to change this situation? First it tried to get the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah to pay the salaries, by entering into a sort of non-party or "technocratic" government with the Fatah party in the PA. This failed: the PA, which is paying its own civil servants in Gaza, refused to take on the additional burden. So Hamas turned to war. That such a war would be a disaster for the people of Gaza, would surely result in hundreds of dead and thousands of wounded, would destroy many homes and public facilities, must have been clear to the Hamas leadership. They had spent years planting their rockets and tunnels in and under hospitals, schools, and homes, which predictably would be hit during the war. No matter. That was a price the people of Gaza would have to pay.

And then would come the payments to Hamas. The goal of the war was to shake things up, to get Hamas out of its fiscal crisis, by getting the world, the "international community," to get money moving. Perhaps Qatar would agree to pay those salaries. Perhaps the United States would pressure Egypt and Israel to open more passages more hours, and without undue inspections of what was going through. Perhaps the Americans and the EU and the wealthy Arab oil producers would go for as "Marshall Plan" for Gaza, sending hundreds of millions of dollars.

And all the while, Hamas would remain in charge. As Guy Bechor pointed out in Gplanet, it’s as if all the Marshall Plan funding directed at Germany had been sent with the Nazi Party still in charge in Berlin rather than after the destruction of the Nazi regime and while American troops were stationed in Germany.

It remains to be seen, of course, how well Hamas’s bet will pay off for Hamas. The price paid by the people of Gaza is enormous, but that was part of Hamas’s goal: no destruction, no reconstruction money to skim. The basic situation remains: every citizen of Gaza is a Hamas hostage.

That is not an argument against reconstruction, but it is a reminder that the rules we and other donors set will determine whether most of the money assists people in need, or assists Hamas.  One has to doubt, if experience is a guide, that there will be much stomach among donors to set up stiffer procedures so that UNRWA schools do not again become rocket depots; so that the Hamas command center under the Shifa Hospital is destroyed; so that the dual use items that may enter Gaza are tracked from entry to use and diversion of goods like cement is prevented. But given the Egyptian, Saudi, and Emirati attitude toward Hamas, maybe this time it could be different; maybe tough American leadership could with Arab support demand that Hamas lose its bet. Maybe, that is, it is possible to help the people of Gaza without enriching the terrorists who use them as cannon fodder.  That should certainly be a key goal of the United States when the "reconstruction of Gaza" hits the international agenda.

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