The Israel Electric Corporation has threatened to begin cutting power to Palestinian areas of the West Bank next week over some NIS 383 million ($120 million) in unpaid bills.
Starting next Wednesday, rolling blackouts will hit West Bank areas near Jerusalem, including Ramallah and Bethlehem until the debts are paid or a deal is reached, Israeli and Palestinian officials said.
The story was first reported by the Kan public broadcaster.
Palestinians rely on Israel for nearly all of their electricity but often fall behind on payments to Israel, periodically sparking crises as the IEC attempts to pressure the Jerusalem District Electricity Company, known as JDECO, and the Palestinian Authority into paying their debts.
Israel has in the past forced the IEC to keep providing electricity out of concern for the Palestinian population.
The PA has been notified by Israeli authorities of pending blackouts if the mounting debt is not addressed. JDECO chief Hisham al-Omari accused Israeli authorities of deliberately timing the announcement for political purposes.
“Israel deliberately creates crises, especially as we enter the winter season, in order to serve its goals,” al-Omari said in a statement.
Recognizing that it won’t be able to immediately cough up the funds, Ramallah has presented Israel with a list of areas it is asking to be excluded from the blackout zones, Kan reported. These include towns with hospitals or other essential facilities.
Recent years have seen the PA plunge into an economic crisis that was further intensified by the pandemic. As the conflict with Israel continues to drag on with no resolution in sight and Ramallah continues to push off its first election in over 15 years, the international community’s willingness to fund the PA has also waned.
Senior PA officials have embarked on trips abroad in order to secure additional budget aid. Intelligence chief Majed Faraj was in the United Arab Emirates this week and PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh was set to reach out to European allies for assistance.
The IEC took similar measures two years ago, cutting power in parts of the West Bank over a NIS 1.7 billion ($500 million) debt owed by the main Palestinian power distributor for the West Bank. The cuts lasted roughly three months until the PA managed to pay half of the debt in January 2020.
In 2016, Israel and the PA reached a deal to settle a debt that had accumulated to 2 NIS billion ($530 million), with Ramallah agreeing to pay Jerusalem NIS 570 million ($132 million). The remaining balance of NIS 1.5 billion ($397 million) was to be paid in 48 installments.
Under an economic agreement signed with the PA in 1994, Israel collects around NIS 600-700 million ($159-$185 million) each month in customs duties, which are levied on goods destined for Palestinian markets that transit through Israeli ports.
It transfers the money after deducting approximately NIS 100 million ($26 million) for expenses such as Palestinian hospitalizations in Israel, sewage treatment, and part of the electricity debt, which has remained largely stable in recent months.
In January 2015, the IEC cut power to Palestinian cities for a number of hours every day over a similar debt, only to permanently renew the electricity supply a few weeks later.