For the second time this week, the Israel Electric Corporation briefly cut power to the West Bank cities of Nablus and Jenin Wednesday over an unpaid debt of NIS 1.9 billion ($482 million).
The state-owned electric company said the hour-long blackouts served as a warning over the outstanding bills accrued by Palestinian utility companies that buy electricity from Israel and distribute it to West Bank cities and towns.
The company said that Palestinian residents affected by the power outage Wednesday afternoon received advance warning of the move.
On Monday, the electric company cut power to the same West Bank cities for a period of 45 minutes, marking the first time the company intentionally shut off electricity supply to Palestinian areas.
In a statement released by the IEC on Wednesday, the company said it was forced to intervene to reduce the deficit. “Having issued numerous warnings and attempts to reach an agreements, the IEC’s board instructed the CEO to take action to minimize the debt,” the statement said.
“Since IEC is legally obligated to operate according to commercial considerations, the company is obligated to restrict the electricity supply for certain periods of time,” the statement concluded.
After Monday’s blackout, mayors of Nablus and Jenin said the move was politically motivated and called it a form of “collective punishment.”
Distancing itself from the crisis, the Prime Minister’s Office said the decision was made independently by the company, and had nothing to do with the government.
However, earlier this week the IEC said it repeatedly alerted the Prime Minister’s Office and Defense Ministry over the inflating debt and the urgent need to arrange payment with the Palestinian companies, but no agreement between the sides was ever reached.
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and National Security Adviser Yossi Cohen voiced strong opposition to the IEC’s decision, citing the potentially high humanitarian and diplomatic costs the blackouts would cause, Haaretz reported Wednesday.
According to the paper, Cohen held an emergency meeting Tuesday with the IEC and representatives from the defense and finance ministries to come up with a solution for the crisis.
The Palestinian Authority says it is strapped for cash after Israel froze the transfer of approximately half a billion shekels in tax revenues as a punitive measure against unilateral diplomatic moves by Ramallah to gain statehood recognition.
Palestinian officials have warned that if Israel does not transfer the frozen funds, the Palestinian Authority would terminate its security cooperation with Israel.
Last week, US Secretary of State John Kerry warned that the Palestinian Authority could collapse without a cash injection.
Analysts have said the financial crisis could snowball into an escalation in violence.