PA tells Israel it will no longer pay for Gaza’s electricity
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PA tells Israel it will no longer pay for Gaza’s electricity

Hamas calls move ‘a dangerous escalation, and a fit of insanity’ as enclave’s energy crisis spirals

Dov Lieber is The Times of Israel's Arab affairs correspondent.

A Palestinian uses a gas lighter while he works inside his restaurant during a power outage in the Gaza Strip, November 17, 2013. (Emad Nassar/Flash90)
A Palestinian uses a gas lighter while he works inside his restaurant during a power outage in the Gaza Strip, November 17, 2013. (Emad Nassar/Flash90)

The Palestinian Authority on Thursday informed Israel it would no longer pay for electricity that the Jewish state supplies to the Gaza Strip, as a power crisis in the Hamas-run enclave deepened.

News of the PA refusal to sponsor electricity came in a statement by the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT).

Hamas spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri called the move “a dangerous escalation, and a fit of insanity.”

“We warn Israel against taking this move,” he said.

The move is one of a series of measures taken recently by the PA, aimed at forcing Hamas to either take full responsibility for the territory it governs, or to relinquish control back to the PA.

The PA’s power play comes during an existing energy crisis, after Hamas refused to buy fuel from the PA for the enclave’s only power plant.

Currently, the energy shortage in Gaza has left the Strip’s residents with as little as four hours of power a day.

The World Bank said on Thursday the power cuts have led to a “humanitarian crisis,” hitting hospitals, clinics, water supply and other vital services, as well as household needs.

A newborn is seen inside an incubator at the neonatal intensive care unit at the Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City on April 23, 2017. (Said Khatib/AFP)
A newborn is seen inside an incubator at the neonatal intensive care unit at the Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City on April 23, 2017. (Said Khatib/AFP)

Without energy provided by Israel, it is unclear how Gaza can maintain even its current scarce levels of electricity.

Israel has been providing Gaza energy through 10 power lines, supplying 125 megawatts, which is 30 percent of the amount needed to power Gaza 24 hours a day.

The cost of this energy supply, which was paid for by the PA, was NIS 40 million a month.

The only other source of energy is provided by Egyptian power lines, which provide 25 megawatts — just 6.25% of the amount necessary to power Gaza for a full day.

Private individuals or international donors can pick up the energy bill for Gaza.

In the past, Qatar has stepped in to buy fuel for the power plant, but has so far showed no intention of coming to the Strip’s rescue in the current crisis.

The Hamas terror group seized power in Gaza in 2007 from the Ramallah-based Fatah organization of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Since then, however, the PA has continued to use a large amount of its small budget to pay for vital infrastructure in the enclave.

In 2016, the PA’s overall budget was $4.14 billion, of which the Gaza Strip’s share was $1.65 billion–approximately 40 percent of PA funds.

At the same time, Hamas has continued to impose high taxes on Gaza’s residents, while funneling the revenue into its coffers and military wing for weaponry to fight Israel.

Members of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, attend a memorial in the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah on January 31, 2017. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)
Members of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, attend a memorial in the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah on January 31, 2017. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

The renewed push by the PA to regain a foothold in Gaza comes ahead of Abbas’s meeting with US President Donald Trump at the White House next week. Ahead of the Washington confab, Abbas was under pressure to show that he represents all Palestinians, including those in Gaza.

In March, Hamas announced it would form an administrative committee to further its governance in Gaza. The announcement infuriated Abbas, who immediately began taking steps to squeeze Hamas out of power.

In early April, Abbas reduced by one-third the salaries of tens of thousands of employees of the pre-Hamas government in Gaza who had been paid for the last decade, on condition that they stay home.

The ongoing salary payments had been intended to ensure loyalty to Abbas, but inadvertently also propped up Hamas by injecting cash into Gaza’s fragile economy.

Khalil al-Haya, the second-highest ranking Hamas leader in Gaza, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that Abbas will fail “if he tries to make Gaza kneel or expects to win our loyalty by force.”

“You can’t punish the one who lives in tough conditions,” al-Haya said. “Gaza is an explosive barrel and he (Abbas) cannot press this barrel more. If he does, it’s going to explode in his face and in all directions.”

Avi Issacharoff and agencies contributed to this report.

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