Palestinians across the West Bank could be left without electricity unless NIS 700 million ($175 million) of unpaid power bills are sorted out, Energy and Water Resources Minister Uzi Landau said on Monday.
The Palestinian Authority owes the Israel Electric Company (IEC) over NIS 700 million as of September 1. On Monday, Landau sent a letter to PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad saying immediate steps must be taken to pay the PA’s bills.
“I will instruct IEC to take all necessary steps to collect these debts, with all the implications that may arise,” Landau wrote.
The Palestinian Authority could repay the debt with import and export taxes collected by Israel on Ramallah’s behalf. The likelihood of the electricity being completely turned off is low, Channel 2 news speculated.
The accumulated electricity debt is another sign of the Palestinian Authority’s mounting cash crunch, which it largely blames on a sharp reduction in foreign aid since 2011.
Israeli electricity is distributed to the West Bank by the Jerusalem District Electricity Co., a private firm. In a news conference in August, officials of the Jerusalem company said the Palestinian Authority and residents in 12 Palestinian refugee camps are the main debtors.
Last month PA President Mahmoud Abbas enacted legislation to increase punishments for electricity thieves, Gulf news agency Nuqudy reported.
The minimum sentence for electricity theft or bill manipulation was amended to four months in prison and a fine upwards of NIS 1,500 ($375). Sabotage or destruction of electrical installations can now be penalized with 1-3 years in prison and fine of as much as NIS 56,000 ($14,000). Enforcement of the law remains problematic.