The Palestinian political leadership has for a full decade been divided by two competing factions: the Palestinian Authority which runs the West Bank and Hamas, which runs the Gaza Strip. Their bitter power struggle has recently been brought to a head by electricity bills.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas stopped paying Israel to supply Gaza with electricity. Abbas acts as the intermediary between Hamas and Israel which controls Gaza’s power lines. He also cut the salaries of thousands of Gazan employees working in his government, hoping both these punitive measures would bring Hamas to join a national unity government with the Palestinian Authority. In attempting to squeeze Hamas into submission, Abbas calculated the group would capitulate in order to avoid a humanitarian disaster. Hamas declined to cooperate, and let the Gaza Strip to fall into darkness. Gaza’s 2 million residents were forced to get used to 20-hour blackouts and scorching summer days without air conditioning. Its already decrepit infrastructure deteriorated so severely that sewage overflowed into the sea.
Hamas came to power in 2007, ousting Abbas’s government from the West Bank along the way. Mkhaimar Abusada, a political scientist at al-Azhar University in Gaza, explained that Hamas’s ideology resonates among a generation that saw the Palestinian Authority build gleaming and internationally funded new government buildings in the West Bank — enriching many of its own officials along the way — while failing to have much impact on the ground, where Israeli settlement building continues and peace talks have been stalled for years. Hamas has never fulfilled its promise to end Israel’s crippling blockade on the strip, but the group has trumpeted Gaza’s “steadfastness” in the face of Israel’s military efforts to eradicate it.
Hamas has defiantly used Abbas’s own party’s internal disunity against him. Hamas’s Gaza chief, Yehiya Sinwar, forged an unlikely alliance with Mohammed Dahlan, a former senior official in the Palestinian Authority, before falling out of Abbas’s favor in 2010.