Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said Thursday that the unfolding Gaza electricity crisis could be resolved and that the Palestinian enclave’s Hamas rulers were using the situation to distract Gazans from the failures of its leadership.
He also said that if terror groups in the Strip would disarm, Israel would help rehabilitate Gaza following a decade of Hamas rule and three wars since 2008.
In an interview with the Arabic-language website, Al-Monsk, run by the Israeli Defense Ministry’s civil administration, the defense minister said Israel was not a party in the escalating power spat between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority under president Mahmoud Abbas, which recently requested that Israel reduce its electricity supply to Gaza, ostensibly over unpaid bills.
Abbas is also seeking to ramp up pressure on Hamas, his Fatah party’s bitter rival which seized Gaza in a bloody coup from Abbas loyalists in a dispute over parliamentary elections swept by the Islamist movement the previous year.
The Israeli security cabinet decided Sunday night that it would heed the request and cut the daily amount of power it supplies to the Gaza Strip by between 45 and 60 minutes at the behest of Abbas. Gazans currently receive only three to four hours of electricity a day, delivered from the territory’s own power station and others in Israel and Egypt.
Liberman said Thursday that Israel was a mere “supplier of electricity and was prepared to supply electricity” if the Palestinians paid for it. “This is an [internal] Palestinian crisis; those who need to pay for electricity are the leaders of Hamas, of the Palestinian Authority — we are not a party in this,” he said.
He also sharply criticized Hamas’s rule in the Palestinian enclave, calling it a “decade of suffering” and accusing the terror group of collecting some NIS 100 million in taxes from Gazans monhly and using it for “building its terror infrastructure, tunnels and rockets” instead of investing in education and medical care.
He urged Gazans to look at the situation in the PA-ruled West Bank and compare the living conditions.
Liberman also accused Hamas of using the electricity crisis to redirect the “rage” of Gazans toward another target.
Hamas is “trying to distract from its failures and redirect them toward Israel,” he said, adding that “Israel would be prapared to “build industrial zones, create jobs, and be a partner in building power plants but the most basic condition is disarmamnent.”
“If there’s disarmament, ther will be rehabilitation,” he said.
Earlier this week, Liberman blocked a cabinet initiative to construct an artificial island off the Gaza coast to allow the flow of goods into the territory.
The island, proposed at some 534 hectares (1,320 acres) and at a cost of approximately $5 billion, would include infrastructure to provide Gaza with essential services it currently lacks, including desalination facilities for clean water and an electricity plant, a freight harbor and an area for container storage — which Katz says will help open the Gazan economy to the outside world — and a bridge would connect it to Gaza, with one portion acting as a drawbridge. An airport could be considered at a later stage.
Top officials briefed on Sunday’s cabinet meeting said many ministers expressed support for Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz’s plan that seeks to alleviate conditions in the Strip while maintaining the country’s security control.
A key point for Katz is Israel would control security around the island and in the port, with threats such as rockets and tunnels that could be used for attacks from the territory a major concern. On the island itself, Katz envisions an international police force.
Briefed officials said supporters of the plan in the cabinet included Education Minister Naftali Bennett, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz and Housing Minister Yoav Galant.
However, Liberman voice opposition on security grounds, saying he did not believe goods passing through the island could be properly vetted to ensure no weapons are smuggled into Gaza. He also reportedly said the rehabilitation of Gaza should be contingent on its demilitarization.
The cabinet meeting ended with no decision being made.