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Brimming With Extras, Palestinian Government Feels Unity Pains


What do you do with an extra 40,000 employees? That's a problem, right now, for the Palestinian Authority. A deal ending the long split between two Palestinian factions means that they are now forming a government together - Fatah and Hamas under the same roof. The thing is, each faction has its own workers who are supposed to perform the same jobs. NPR's Emily Harris went to Gaza and met two men, local cops whose jobs are now at stake.

EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: After their bloody conflict seven years ago, Hamas kicked its rival Palestinian faction, Fatah, out of the Gaza Strip. Hamas installed its own people into government jobs. But Fatah loyalists in Gaza still got paid by the Palestinian central government in the West Bank, run by Fatah. For the past seven years, tens of thousands of people got salaries for not working, like this police officer, Shadi.

SHADI: (Through translator) I wanted to be a policeman since I was a kid. I don't know why.

HARRIS: Shadi became a cop in Gaza in 1994 when the Palestinian police force started. He got raises and promotions during the seven years his Fatah bosses paid him to stay home.

SHADI: (Through translator) I'm a military man. I follow my commanders, and I also didn't want to lose my salary.

HARRIS: Shadi's buddy, Mohammad, was also a police officer in Gaza for years. They're both around 40-years-old. Shoddy, styling greased-back hair, and Mohammad in a crew cut. Both men asked us not to give their full names, for fear of getting fired. Unlike his friend, Mohammad kept reporting to work after Hamas took over.

MOHAMMAD: (Through translator) I don't know why. I think I'm unfortunately stubborn.

HARRIS: Over the past seven years, he's also been promoted and gotten raises. But more recently, Hamas's budget started to dry up, so Mohammad, who is still working, has not gotten his full salary for months. Shadi, who hasn't worked in seven years, is still getting paid - now by the new Palestinian government. Hamas member and former government minister Ismail Radwan says this is patently unfair.

ISMAIL RADWAN: (Through translator) How can the leader of the Palestinian Authority discriminate between Palestinian citizens? How can he say he will not pay the salaries for the people who are working for the government of Gaza? The reconciliation government is a replacement for both governments - not an extension of one.

HARRIS: Reconciliation government spokesman Ehab Bseiso also served the previous Fatah-dominated West Bank administration. He defends the decision to not pick up the tab for Hamas's former employees in Gaza right now.

EHAB BSEISO: Well, first of all, the budget of the government cannot accommodate salaries that can go up to $50 million a month.

HARRIS: But no salaries for former Hamas employees could spark social unrest. The country of Qatar has agreed to pay part of the bill for three months while a committee figures out what to do. Over coffee and cigarettes, Shadi and Mohammad joke around. But they say the salary issue fanned tensions and rivalry. Neither even knows if he'll have a job after the committee does its work. And Mohammad says Hamas cops worry their political practices might come back to haunt them.

MOHAMMAD: (Through translator) At checkpoints, I could hold anyone - search him completely, even his socks, just to intimidate him. We could break in and search houses without court orders. We forced prisoners to pray. Everyone is afraid of revenge. Both sides of been accused of abuse when they ran the police in Gaza, but Shadi worries about something else. Although he hasn't walked a beat for seven years, he thinks officers who served under Fatah, like him, are more professional than Hamas hires.

SHADI: (Through translator) The main problem is rank. Lots of Hamas police were promoted whether or not they were qualified, but we had a system built on professional degrees. I don't want to work with a donkey driver who has more stars than me.

HARRIS: The tension between two cops in Gaza just hints at larger threats to the political agreement Fatah and Hamas recently signed. This week, Fatah condemned the kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers, which Israel blames on Hamas. This threatens to drive a new wedge between the two Palestinian factions, even as their consensus government is barely off the ground. Emily Harris, NPR News, Jerusalem.

SIEGEL: This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

International Correspondent Emily Harris is based in Jerusalem as part of NPR's Mideast team. Her post covers news related to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip. She began this role in March of 2013.