Israel threatened to charge PA for Gaza power, to avert humanitarian crisis

Defense official sent warning to Palestinian minister sum will be deducted from the taxes Israel collects on Ramallah’s behalf

Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel's Middle East analyst, fills the same role for Walla, the leading portal in Israel. He is also a guest commentator on many different radio shows and current affairs programs on television. Until 2012, he was a reporter and commentator on Arab affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. He also lectures on modern Palestinian history at Tel Aviv University, and is currently writing a script for an action-drama series for the Israeli satellite Television "YES." Born in Jerusalem, he graduated cum laude from Ben Gurion University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and then earned his M.A. from Tel Aviv University on the same subject, also cum laude. A fluent Arabic speaker, Avi was the Middle East Affairs correspondent for Israeli Public Radio covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the Arab countries between the years 2003-2006. Avi directed and edited short documentary films on Israeli television programs dealing with the Middle East. In 2002 he won the "best reporter" award for the "Israel Radio” for his coverage of the second intifada. In 2004, together with Amos Harel, he wrote "The Seventh War - How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians." A year later the book won an award from the Institute for Strategic Studies for containing the best research on security affairs in Israel. In 2008, Issacharoff and Harel published their second book, entitled "34 Days - The Story of the Second Lebanon War," which won the same prize.

A Palestinian woman ironing clothes during the few hours of electricity supply that Gaza receives each day, at Rafah refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip, July 31, 2017. (AFP/ SAID KHATIB)
A Palestinian woman ironing clothes during the few hours of electricity supply that Gaza receives each day, at Rafah refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip, July 31, 2017. (AFP/ SAID KHATIB)

Israel has threatened the Palestinian Authority that it deduct money from taxes it collects on behalf of the PA, in order to cover the cost of supplying electricity to the Gaza Strip.

Already-limited power supplies in the coastal enclave have been further squeezed amid a spat between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority over who should pay for the power.

Israel made the threat in a July 17 letter seen by The Times of Israel. Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai told PA Minister of Civil Affairs Hussein al-Sheikh Minister that due to the serious humanitarian considerations supplies must be restored one way or another.

Hamas, a terror group that has ruled the Strip ever since it ousted the PA in a violent coup in 2007, had refused to pay for Israeli electricity, claiming the PA is responsible for funding it, even as Hamas has spent millions on its military capabilities. In May, Ramallah reduced the amount of electricity it was willing to pay for, and as a result power supplies in Gaza were reduced to four to six hours a day.

The PA, which is dominated by Hamas’s rival Fatah, has since been cutting back some NIS 15 million ($4.2 million) each month from the NIS 40 million ($11.4 million) it used to pay for Israel for electricity in Gaza, part of a series of steps meant to pressure Hamas. Israel began to reduce the supplies in mid-June to account for the shortfall.

Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai in 2015 (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

“I hereby inform you that if an internal Palestinian solution is not found, we will restore the previous situation and deduct the funds from the tax transfers in the near future,” Mordechai wrote and noted that he had warned Sheikh in the past that such a measure could be adopted.

“There are humanitarian red lines that, if crossed, pose the potential to harm, among others, the health and sanitation sectors [in Gaza] and ultimately the population at large.

“I request that you take action to resolve this matter so as to prevent the implementation of unilateral measures,” he said.

Mordechai’s unit, which is in charge of liaising with the Palestinian territories in administrative matters, declined to comment on the letter, which did not give a specific date for when Israel would start to deduct the cash for Gaza’s electricity bills and it has not yet begun doing so.

Under an economic agreement signed in 1994, Israel transfers to the Palestinian Authority tens of millions of dollars each month in customs duties levied on goods destined for Palestinian markets that transit through Israeli ports. Israel has imposed freezes on the transfer in the past, though the sanction has rarely lasted more than one or two months.

A Hamas delegation that this week visited Cairo met with heads of Egyptian intelligence to talk, among other things, about possible solutions for the electricity problems in Gaza, which have had serious consequences for residents of the Strip. Many of Gaza’s beaches are prohibited for bathing because Gaza’s sewage treatment plants have stopped working due to lack of power.

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)

Hamas has sought ways to circumvent the PA and increase electricity supplies, including by purchasing fuel oil from Egypt for Gaza’s sole power station.

PA attempts to pressure Hamas have also brought about a severe shortage of medicine and medical equipment in the enclave, a rights watchdog said in June, describing a worsening humanitarian situation.

Abbas, who opposes what he sees as a Hamas shadow government in Gaza, has said privately that he is tired of being Hamas’s “ATM,” and that if Hamas wants PA money it must cede power in the Strip.

Hamas wrested control of Gaza from Abbas’s PA in 2007 in a bloody coup, and years of reconciliation efforts have yielded nothing.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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