On January 7, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to suspend the third round of Qatari funds intended for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, leaving public sector employees unpaid for what is now the second week in a row. Ten days later, KAN 11 News (run by the Israel Public Broadcasting Corporation, or IPBC, the state broadcaster of Israel), reported that Israel will allow the Qatari funds to be released only if “quiet is maintained,”a reference to the ongoing Great March of Return protests along the Gaza-Israel border.
On October 10, Qatar announced a $150 million aid package to the Gaza Strip in order to alleviate some of the economic burdens on Hamas. $15 million in payments were to be distributed each month, for six months, to pay for government employee salaries. The funds were also supposed to be used for fuel, relief and humanitarian aid, and cash handouts for unemployed Palestinians. Through a closely monitored system, the aid package received Israeli approval. The first two installments arrived in February and November 2018.
Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip, has warned that delaying Qatari funds for government salaries could increase the risk of violence and unrest along the border. The funding restrictions have also disrupted fuel from being delivered to Gaza. With the increased winter demand for heating, the Strip has experienced frequent blackouts. As the current fuel supply runs out, critical medical services in hospitals are being interrupted. A spokesperson for Gaza’s health ministry warned of a “catastrophic situation,” as hospitals can no longer generate power to serve their existing or future patients.
Despite Israeli claims to the contrary, the real reason for Israel’s decision to block the funds relates more to domestic politics than to protests inside Gaza. With parliamentary elections scheduled for April, debate arose in the Knesset over allowing Qatari funds to enter the Gaza Strip. Netanyahu decided to block the funds out of concern that releasing them would affect his chances of a favorable election outcome. Once again Palestinians are being used as political pawns by Israeli politicians more concerned with their own political power.
Israel’s blockade of Gaza, which has lasted for more than ten years, has had dire economic and humanitarian effects on the territory. As of January 2019, the General Federation of Palestinian Trade Unions (PGFTU) reported that the poverty rate in the Gaza Strip exceeds 80 percent; more than 295,000 people are unemployed; and schools are under constant threat of being shut down.
Putting politics before people has left Palestinians on the frontlines of a battle for which there is no end in sight.