Palestinian children are the latest victims of the power struggle between the two rival Palestinian factions, the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Hamas.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas has declared war on the Gaza Strip as part of his effort to prompt Palestinians living there to revolt against the ruling Hamas administration. It appears that Abbas and Hamas are determined to fight to the last ill Palestinian child.
Abbas is hoping that a series of punitive measures he has taken, which include reducing electricity and medical supplies and cutting off salaries to many Palestinians, will lead to the collapse of Hamas, paving the way for the return of his PA to the Gaza Strip. Abbas has had a grudge against Hamas ever since the Islamist movement expelled his PA and loyalists from the Gaza Strip ten years ago.
Abbas's war on the Hamas may seem justified. Nonetheless, it smacks of hypocrisy and is accompanied by a smear campaign against Israel.
Instead of accepting responsibility for their punitive actions against Hamas and the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, Abbas and his PA are falsely trying to put the blame on Israel. They are telling their people and the rest of the world that Israel bears the full and sole responsibility for the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip. This, of course, is a wide-eyed lie as well as another blood libel against Israel.
The attempt to put the blame on Israel should be seen in the context of Abbas's ongoing incitement against Israel. Moreover, Abbas is trying to drag Israel into his continuing conflict with Hamas, which is a purely internal Palestinian affair. Israel had nothing to do with Hamas's violent takeover of the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2007. Two years earlier, Israel had totally withdrawn from the Gaza Strip, leaving Abbas's PA fully in control of the area. Within two years, Hamas had overthrown the PA and seized control of the Gaza Strip, including Abbas's house.
Abbas's loyalists in Gaza hardly resisted Hamas. Most of them simply surrendered to Hamas or fled to Israel and Egypt. It was thanks to Israel that many of Abbas's senior officials were able to run from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank. Were it not for Israel, they would have been dragged through the streets of the Gaza Strip and publicly lynched. Many PA operatives were thrown from the top floors of buildings.
What, then, is spurring this switch? Why has Abbas suddenly decided to take a series of drastic measures against Hamas and his people in the Gaza Strip, ten years after the Islamist expulsion?
According to his aides, Abbas is fuming over Hamas's recent decision to establish an "administrative body" to run the affairs of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. Abbas seems to view the move as driving a nail into the coffin of any PA-Hamas reconciliation.
He is also apparently deeply worried that his political rival, Mohamed Dahlan, and Hamas are close to forming an alliance against him. In recent days there have been reports that Hamas may allow Dahlan to return to the Gaza Strip to head a new Palestinian government that would be funded and backed by some Gulf countries and Egypt, all of which are disillusioned with Abbas.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is apparently deeply worried that his political rival, Mohamed Dahlan, and Hamas are close to forming an alliance against him. Pictured above: Abbas (left) and Dahlan (right) in Jericho on June 20, 2003. (Photo by Awad Awad-Pool/Getty)
Furthermore, Abbas reads the move as a sign of Hamas's effort to turn the Gaza Strip into an independent and sovereign Palestinian state, leaving him as the president of a mini-state in parts of the West Bank only. Such a move would seriously undermine his claim that he is the president of all Palestinians, including the two million residents of the Gaza Strip. He can hardly tell the world that he wants a Palestinian state on the pre-1967 lines when he cannot even return to his private home in Gaza.
At an emergency meeting of the Palestinian Authority government on June 28, Abbas repeated his demand that Hamas dismantle the "administrative body" it established in the Gaza Strip. He accused Hamas of sabotaging efforts to end the dispute with his PA and warned that the Islamist movement's measures in the Gaza Strip "jeopardize the Palestinian national project."
The meeting in Ramallah came in the wake of an outcry over Abbas's punitive measures against the Gaza Strip and charges that he and his PA have aggravated the humanitarian crisis and deepened the suffering of Palestinians living there.
According to sources in the Gaza Strip, Abbas has instructed the PA to stop issuing medical referrals from the Gaza Strip to Palestinian patients who need urgent medical treatment in Israeli and West Bank Palestinian hospitals.
As a result, the sources say, at least four critically ill Palestinian children have died in Gaza Strip hospitals in the past week because they were not given permits from the PA Ministry of Health in the West Bank to receive treatment outside the Gaza Strip.
Hamas and human rights groups hold Abbas personally responsible for the deaths of the children and the possible deaths of other patients who are in need of urgent medical treatment not available in Gaza Strip hospitals. One human rights group went so far as to call for the International Criminal Court in The Hague to launch an investigation against Abbas.
Hamas, for its part, has condemned Abbas's measures as a "crime against humanity" and an attempt to strangle the entire Gaza Strip. Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri warned that between 3,000 to 4,000 patients in the Gaza Strip are seriously ill and need urgent medical treatment outside Gaza.
"Mahmoud Abbas deserves the title of baby killer," remarked Ra'fat Murra, a top Hamas representative in the Gaza Strip. He pointed out that the four children died because of lack of medicine supplies (which were halted by the PA in the West Bank) and the refusal of the PA to issue permits for them to leave the Gaza Strip for treatment in hospitals in Israel and the West Bank. "Abbas wants the Gaza Strip to explode in the face of Hamas or Israel," Murra charged. "Abbas has a project for killing Palestinians and destroying our cause and society. His measures are intended to serve his private agenda."
Last month, Abbas told Israel that his PA government would no longer pay for the electricity Israel supplies to the Gaza Strip. This measure, which has left most of the residents of the Gaza Strip without electricity for the greater part of each day, also should be taken in the context of Abbas's war on Hamas. In addition, he has decided further to reduce medical supplies to the Gaza Strip, intensifying the humanitarian crisis there even more.
In a move of mind-bending irony, we are witnessing a Palestinian president waging war not only against Hamas, but also against the two million Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip -- while Israel continues to provide the Palestinians living under Hamas with humanitarian aid.
Israeli steps fly in the face of Abbas's ruthless measures. Just this week, about 300 Palestinians from the Gaza Strip were issued permits by Israel to leave Gaza while thousands of tons of equipment and goods were allowed into Gaza.
What does Israel get for this most recent aid to the Palestinians?
Take for example, this statement issued by Abbas's Ministry of Health in response to the deaths of the ill children in the Gaza Strip. The statement seeks to implicate Israel by claiming that "ongoing Israeli restrictions are the main reason behind the harm caused to patients in the Gaza Strip."
It also falsely claims that the Israeli Ministry of Health has stopped issuing permits to patients from the Gaza Strip to receive medical treatment in Israeli and West Bank hospitals. The statement goes on to accuse the Israeli media of waging a smear campaign of lies and fake news about the PA's responsibility for the misery of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.
In making these false claims, Abbas is doing double "duty": punishing his people in the Gaza Strip while further blackening the name of Israel. These false accusations, however, accomplish even more: they encourage Palestinians to step up their murder sprees against Israelis and feed the campaign in the international arena to delegitimize and demonize Israel and Jews.
This is an old tactic of Abbas and other Palestinian leaders, who have never assumed responsibility for the suffering of their people. Abbas seeks to fight Hamas at the expense of his people, beginning with sick Palestinian children, but at the expense of Israel.
Like Hamas, Abbas sacrifices these sick children in Gaza and slanders the name of Israel, to divert attention from his responsibility for the tragedies that have befallen the residents of the Gaza Strip.
That is the standard operating procedure of the man who lied straight to the face of President Donald Trump, by claiming that he had stopped incitement against Israel and was promoting a "culture of peace" among his people. Will the last sick Palestinian child please stand up?
Bassam Tawil is a Muslim based in the Middle East.