Steinitz rebukes COGAT head for reduction of electricity to Gaza
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Steinitz rebukes COGAT head for reduction of electricity to Gaza

Energy minister says he doesn't take orders from Palestinians, after PA tells Israel to cut power over unpaid bills

Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz attends the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, at the Inbal Hotel in Jerusalem,  February 20, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz attends the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, at the Inbal Hotel in Jerusalem, February 20, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A senior Likud minister rebuked the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) Major General Yoav (Poly) Mordechai, opposing his decision to reduce the supply of electricity to the Gaza Strip, after the Palestinian Authority said it would not continue to pay the bill.

In a sharp letter to Mordechai dated May 15 and published in the Hebrew-language media on Thursday, the Minister of National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Resources Yuval Steinitz, a close associate of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, wrote that he was “shocked” to hear of the decision and said that he is “not in the habit of taking orders from the Palestinian Authority, directly or indirectly, on matters under my authority.”

“The Palestinian Authority owes hundreds of millions [of shekels] for electricity supplied to [it],” he wrote to Mordechai, adding that his office has the authority to decide whether to reduce the debt and where to reduce the supply. “Maybe at the Muqata [presidential headquarters] in Ramallah,” suggested Steinitz.

He urged that Israel should not become a tool in the political rivalry between the PA, headed by Fatah’s Mahmoud Abbas, and the Islamist terror group Hamas, which has ruled the Gaza Strip since overthrowing Fatah in a violent coup in 2007.

The minister added that before Israel cuts off electricity, he expects COGAT to work closely with his ministry, the Shin Bet and the Finance Ministry to “determine the consequences such a move would have on the Gaza Strip.”

According to Mordechai, Israel currently supplies Gaza with 125 megawatts monthly — around 30% of what is needed to power Gaza for 24 hours a day. Israel had also decided to provide another 100 megawatts a month.

After the new decision is implemented, Israel will supply Gaza with only 75 megawatts a month.

The PA has been paying 40 million shekels ($11.1 million) a month for the 125 megawatts. Mordechai said he received an “official notice” from Ramallah saying it is “interested in transferring” just 20-25 million shekels ($5.6- 7 million) a month for electricity to Gaza.

He also warned that the move could have a major humanitarian impact on the Strip’s two million residents.

Head of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) Yoav (Poly) Mordechai, and the Palestinian Authority’s Civil Affairs Minister Hussein al-Sheikh signed an agreement to revitalize the Israeli–Palestinian Joint Water Committee, January 15 2017 (COGAT)
Head of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) Yoav (Poly) Mordechai, and the Palestinian Authority’s Civil Affairs Minister Hussein al-Sheikh signed an agreement to revitalize the Israeli–Palestinian Joint Water Committee, January 15 2017 (COGAT)

“Israel is forced to reduce the supply of electricity to the Gaza Strip,” he said during an interview on BBC Arabic, blaming the move on an internal power struggle between the Palestinians on Thursday.

“This is an internal Palestinian issue, not an Israeli-Palestinian issue,” Mordechai said. “Unfortunately there are internal problems between Hamas in the Gaza Strip and the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, and this brought about a decision by the PA not to finance the electricity,” he added.

The PA first informed Israel back in April it would no longer pay for Gaza’s electricity.

The move is part of a series of steps aimed a forcing Hamas to either cede control of the Gaza Strip back to the PA, or take full responsibility for the enclave.

A spokesperson for COGAT told The Times of Israel “no official time” has been chosen to put the measure into effect.

According to Mordechai, Israel is presently the only supplier of electricity to the Gaza Strip.

Gaza’s residents have already been experiencing deep power cuts for the last two months, having just four to six hours of electricity a day.

In this Sunday, Jan. 15, 2017 file photo, a Palestinian family warm themselves up with a fire outside their makeshift house during a power cut in a poor neighborhood in town of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip. (AP Photo/ Khalil Hamra, File)
In this Sunday, Jan. 15, 2017 file photo, a Palestinian family warm themselves up with a fire outside their makeshift house during a power cut in a poor neighborhood in town of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip. (AP Photo/ Khalil Hamra)

The embattled enclave’s only power plant stopped running in April, after Hamas ran out of fuel and refused to purchase more from the Palestinian Authority over what it said were high taxes.

Egypt also provided a small amount of power to Gaza, but those power lines have been malfunctioning.

Hamas spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri rejected Mordechai’s assertions, saying that “Israel does not provide electricity to Gaza for free. It deducts more than $80 million monthly from through customs taxes.”

In May, Hussein al-Sheikh, head of the PA’s Civil Affairs Department, said Hamas profits from collecting electricity payments from Gaza residents.

“We are not going to continue financing the Hamas coup in Gaza,” he told the Voice of Palestine radio station.

Mordechai echoed these accusations.

“Unfortunately, Hamas takes NIS 100 million ($28 million) a month from residents of the Gaza Strip: from the goods, from the taxes of all the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, and this does not reach the Palestinian Authority,” he said.

“The reason for this is that Hamas prefers that the money go to the tunnels, to the digging and to the organization,” he added.

The Israeli general said Hamas leaders enjoy electricity 24 hours a day, and that each member of the group is provided with a generator and fuel. “Hamas prefers its interests over the interests of the people of Gaza,” he said.

Hamas, which openly calls for the Jewish state’s destruction, has fought three wars with Israel since 2007, and continues to manufacture rockets and dig tunnels into Israel in preparation for another round of conflict.

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