Hope is mixed with skepticism. “I hope that the reconciliation will be a done deal and that we will see improvements soon. For the moment, however, nothing has changed in our lives, and the problems are the same,” Amir, a 23-year-old former university student, tells us. “The most urgent problem,” he explains, “is the lack of electricity: We have it for only four hours at a time, and otherwise most of our work has to stop. I’m not optimistic, because every day there are new obstacles.” Amir is willing to say out loud what many of the inhabitants of Gaza are thinking, and fearing.
“This time, the two parties [Fatah and Hamas] seem to be more serious about it,” his friend Heider adds, “but the agreement is a frail one. Mahmoud Abbas has not lifted the sanctions against Hamas yet, even though he knows that these are affecting the whole population.”
If the lack of electricity, the shortage of drinking water and unemployment are the main problems, in Gaza people are also baffled by the thousands of “early retirements” recently ordered by the Palestinian president in order to cut the cost of Palestinian National Authority (PNA) employees in Gaza. One of them, Taher Hilu, doesn’t know where to turn. “I’m 41 and I’m already retired,” he says. “According to Mahmoud Abbas, I should be able to live with 1,200 shekels (about €300) per month, less than half of my former salary. I don’t know how I will manage now. We are a family of five: my wife and I and three young children. And finding a job to earn some money is difficult, there is no work to be found here.” The unemployment rate in Gaza is among the highest in the world, reaching 65 percent among young people.
With the agreement signed last month in Cairo, Hamas gave the civil administration in Gaza over to the Palestinian government. And on Nov. 1, there was another step forward: The Islamists transferred control of the border crossings to Egypt and Israel to the security forces of the PNA.
However, the re-opening of the Rafah crossing to the Sinai peninsula, which was scheduled for Wednesday, did not happen, to the dismay of thousands of Palestinians who were waiting to leave Gaza for study, for treatment in Egyptian hospitals and for business. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s regime wants only Abbas’s men staffing the crossing point, who have not yet arrived because of the decision of the government of the PNA’s Prime Minister, Rami Hamdallah, who says he is waiting for the management of security forces in Gaza to be clearly established. Egypt is insisting on this so that the Palestinians would contribute, at least with intelligence services, to the security of the Sinai region, where the Egyptian army is engaged in an endless war with the militants of Ansar Bait al-Maqdis, allies of ISIS. In the end, those who had to suffer for this situation were again the Palestinian civilians.