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Factions reject Hamas plans to allocate land to unpaid civil servants

Nov. 22, 2015 3:24 P.M. (Updated: Nov. 22, 2015 6:09 P.M.)
GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- Palestinian factions in Gaza on Sunday slammed a decision announced by Hamas the day before to distribute public land among civil servants hired after 2007, whose salaries the Palestinian Authority has refused to pay.

Representatives of several Palestinian factions, including Fatah and the Palestinian People's Party, called the move illegal, adding that it would threaten the already contentious relationship between Hamas and the Fatah-dominated PA.

Walid al-Awad, a senior leader of the Palestinian People's Party, told Ma'an that a meeting had been arranged between a number of political factions in Gaza later on Sunday to discuss Hamas' plans.

He added that factions would use the meeting to reiterate their position that the decision to distribute public land was "illegal" and "unacceptable."

Al-Awad said that faction leaders believed the plan "demonstrates that Hamas, not the Palestinian national consensus government, is still controlling the Gaza Strip, and that they are controlling it by military force."

On Saturday, Hamas announced plans to distribute around 1,000 dunams (250 acres) of land in Gaza to civil servants hired after 2007, and also to exempt the employees from unpaid electricity and municipal bills.

The question of Gaza's government employees has been a major point of dispute between Hamas and the Fatah-dominated PA since the two rival factions agreed to form a national unity government in June last year.

Hamas has demanded that the government regulate the salaries of 50,000 civil servants hired after the movement took power in Gaza in 2007. The employees took over from 70,000 PA employees who were forced from their positions but have still been receiving their salaries.

The unity government has pledged to return the 70,000 former employees to their positions, saying that the Hamas workers would only be hired "according to need."

The unity government has not been able to function in the Gaza Strip, where Hamas' ministries have continued to hold power.

On Sunday, al-Awad told Ma'an that while he sympathizes with the rights of unpaid civil servants, he disagreed with Hamas' decision primarily because public land is "owned by the Palestinian people -- not by Hamas or any other faction."

Fatah officials also expressed opposition to Hamas’ decision, describing it as a "dangerous and illegal procedure, lacking any nationalistic or political standards."

Fatah spokesperson Fayiz Aabu Eita said that the unilateral decision was dangerous as it indicated that "Hamas does not recognize the Palestinian national consensus government."

He said that Hamas was not serious about finding "solutions for unresolved issues, such as that of unpaid Gaza civil servants."

The deputy speaker of the Union of Palestinian Lawyers, Safi al-Dahdouh, also described the move as illegal under Palestinian law, saying that public property could not be "touched by any individual, even if they have certain jurisdiction."

Al-Dahdouh added that the only person authorized to allocate public property was the president of the PA, Mahmoud Abbas.

The Palestinian prime minister and the Palestinian Legislative Council could also make decisions related to public property, he said, but in order for any final decisions to be put into effect, they required the president's approval.

Dahdouh said that Palestinian factions unilaterally allocating public property could lead to further disputes and would serve to legitimize the acquisition of lands unrightfully.

While rival factions have decried Hamas' announcement, the Union of Gaza Civil Servants expressed hesitant approval.

In a statement, the union said that the decision "is positive, but not enough." The statement said the move would be fully accepted if civil servants also began to receive their full salaries.
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