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Palestinian Territories

Economic pressure unites Fatah and Hamas

The reconciliation deal between rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas could be successful this time either out of Hamas' sheer economic desperation, or from mounting pressure from the struggling people of Gaza.

Beach Road, the main road along the sea in Gaza, is just one of 20 construction projects out of 300 that have been able to carry on building but it's been staggered as materials have gradually been allowed in through Rafah border, open only several times a month - a process facilitated by the Qatari government.

A line of hotels on Beach Road are popular with journalists, humanitarian workers and diplomats, but the road is still not sealed. The golden Gaza sand mixed with dirt serves as the make-shift road and hotels surfaces have become just an extension of the beach.

Since the toppling of the Muslim Brotherhood last year the relatively good times for the people of Gaza have come to a standstill. Egypt's border patrol and army engineers have destroyed as many as 1,200 tunnels between the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip causing Hamas to lose $230 million in tax revenue from the tunnel operators.

The further isolated coastal enclave has been reeling after the closures and the population has been grappling with a loss of fuel and the shutdown of Gaza's only power plant, causing power outages that sometimes last as long as 12 hours.

Reconciliation not new

dirt road
Copyright: kate Shuttleworth

The flow of money and goods has dried up

Nabil Abu Muaileq, chairman of the Palestinian contractors union, represents the 300 construction companies in Gaza, of which only 20 are currently working.

He said meetings over the signing of the reconciliation deal between Fatah and Hamas had been happening since October 2013. Muaileq said he met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah in October to discuss the need for reconciliation after the closure of the tunnels with Egypt.

"We started having big problems with our tenders and our contracts, plus the unemployment rate rose from 34-45 percent. Seventy thousand people are without work - 30,000 of them work directly with the contractors union, another 40,000 work indirectly, either with heavy trucks, bulldozers and various other workers - it's created a huge problem for our people," he told DW.

The reconciliation deal is of direct economic benefit to many of the unemployed in Gaza. In the construction industry alone Muaileq predicts of the 70,000 workers sitting at home jobless, half of them will have a job as soon as Fatah and Hamas work together.

The entire sector is hurting

One of Gaza's wealthiest men, Jawdat Khoudary, runs the $15 million-a-year construction company Saqqa & Khoudary and has been building two hospitals with money from Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

Khoudary told DW since the destruction of the tunnels with Egypt only 50 percent of his work has been possible. One of his main projects, a Turkish/Palestinian friendship hospital, has been on hold since last October. He believes he will be able to get the materials signed off in the coming weeks to carry on with it.

"At the peak of the hospital construction I could have 250 workers, but since October last year I've had less than 20 and this is just for one project," said Khoudary.

Mansour Albudi has a strawberry farm in the north of Gaza, you can see the port of Ashdod from his fields and the border crossing at Erez is close. He is direct about how he feels about the Hamas-led government. "I hate Hamas," he told DW, not at all nervous to go on-the-record saying so.

Since 2006 Albudi's strawberry export business has nearly dried up."When Hamas came the situation became terrible, particularly for the farmers because the ban started for all the markets. If I could change one thing I would change our government, because they only live for themselves," he said.

copyright: kate Shuttleworth

Tasty, but who's buying?

Before 2006 Albudi was exporting 30 tonnes of strawberries to Europe and significant amounts to both the West Bank and Israel. Last year he was only able to export 200 kilograms to Europe. He sold a small amount in Gaza, but they only sell for one Israeli shekel a punnet, which he said was less than the cost of the plastic punnet they are packed in.

Prior to 2007 his strawberries crossed out of Gaza through the Kerem Shalom crossing in south Gaza and were transported in a day via plane to Europe. Now the process takes at least two days and the strawberries have to be unloaded in the sun for inspection by the Israelis at the crossing.

Reconciliation - and money?

Meanwhile, the taxes the Hamas government once levied from the tunnel trade paid the salaries of up to 47,000 people who worked directly with the movement. These workers have only been receiving half their pay since the end of last year.

Isra Almodalal, spokeswoman for the Hamas government, said she had been only paid half of her salary since she began her role in September 2013.

Almodalal, whose father is senior Hamas member Tareq Almodalal, said there had been no direct news on whether she and colleagues would lose their jobs or folded into the Palestinian Authority workforce. "Until now we haven't had any news about losing our positions, but we are ready for it. There are genuinely lots of fears and worries," she said.

While there's a sense of anxiety amongst government staff in Gaza, there is also a sense that reconciliation is a vital step. "The reconciliation is an important step for the people on the street where the frustration has been growing, they really needed this," said Almodalal.

Many political, administrative and security questions remain unanswered under the new deal. How the security forces will be dealt with is just one area to be resolved. No decision has been made on whether Hamas will dismantle its forces or fold them into the Palestinian Authority's security forces, which continue to coordinate with Israel. In the coming weeks as the unity government is formed and elections inch closer the details will be ironed out.

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