On Tuesday, the first supplies of building materials for the reconstruction of Gaza entered the Strip as part of an agreement between Israel, the Palestinian Authority (and Hamas), and the United Nations. The ambitious and closely monitored program to rehabilitate the Strip has begun.
Things are as they were: Poverty, desperation, extremism and tens of thousands of displaced people. The sea is the same sea, and Hamas is the same Hamas, with the same aspirations.
There is one major difference, though: Hamas is poorer. Without the income from the Gaza-Egypt tunnels, and having stopped collecting taxes, its funds are dwindling. While the PA will oversee the actual reconstruction of the Strip, Hamas’s top priority is the reestablishment of its internal infrastructure — including its financial infrastructure.
Hamas’s financial plight stems in part from it being sidelined when it comes to the reconstruction of Gaza. It wasn’t only Israel that was excluded from the “Rehabilitation of Gaza” conference in Cairo on Sunday; Hamas representatives were also absent. Only the Palestinian Authority sent a delegation, according to the instructions of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi.
Hamas had no choice but to let PA President Mahmoud Abbas take the public credit for raising the approximately 5.4 billion in promised aid, most of which is intended for the Gaza Strip. And Hamas has stated that the Palestinian unity government will oversee the reconstruction of Gaza.
As always, however, the reality is more complicated. Hamas has lowered its profile, but financial problems or not, it has no intention of relinquishing practical control over the strip. Gaza’s government and social services will formally be run by the Abbas-led administration, but Hamas is not going anywhere. Its police and military hierarchies will continue to operate throughout Gaza, and Abbas’s PA security forces will not, except perhaps at the border crossings.
Meanwhile, the Hamas’ military wing, the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, has launched a recruitment drive. Last Thursday, the very day that the “national reconciliation government” held its much-hyped first meeting in Gaza, the brigades held a large military parade in Shejaiya. Some of the same officials who greeted PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah in the morning attended the brigades’ rally in the afternoon — a rally intended to convey a clear message to the residents of Gaza: the “resistance” is not about to disarm.