PA to resume full payments for Gaza electricity amid reconciliation bid

Abbas had cut supply to pressure Hamas; restoration will see the enclave return to its regular program of 6-8 hours of electricity daily

Dov Lieber is a former Times of Israel Arab affairs correspondent.

A picture taken on June 13, 2017, shows Palestinian children at home reading books by candle light due to electricity shortages in Gaza City. (AFP/ THOMAS COEX)
A picture taken on June 13, 2017, shows Palestinian children at home reading books by candle light due to electricity shortages in Gaza City. (AFP/ THOMAS COEX)

The Palestinian Authority said on Wednesday that it is ready to resume paying for all of its share of  electricity for the Gaza Strip, ending more than six months of restrictions for the already power-starved Strip.

The measure comes amid a Palestinian reconciliation process between the PA and the Hamas terror group that has ruled the Strip for the last 10 years, and was one of the key demands by Hamas.

Abbas had dramatically reduced payments to Israel for the electricity — effectively slashing the supply — in a bid to pressure Hamas to loosen its grip on Gaza.

The PA has now requested that Israel now resume supplying another 50 megawatts to Gaza’s power lines, restoring the provision of electricity to Gaza to what it was prior to June 2017, said Civil Affairs Minister Hussein al-Sheikh in a statement to the official PA news site Wafa.

The return of the regular power supply to the Strip would mean Gazans would again see six to eight hours of electricity a day, rather than two to four hours a day they received during the reduction. Some days during the electricity crisis some Gazans received more than four hours of electricity a day, thanks to supplies of fuel sent from Egyptian.

Palestinian children do their homework by candlelight during a power outage in Gaza City on September 11, 2017. (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)

The extra shortages in electricity severely hampered essential services in Gaza such as water treatment and healthcare.

Until June, the PA had been paying NIS 40 million ($11.1 million) a month for 125 megawatts of electricity for Gaza. In June, the PA cut its electricity payments for Gaza to Israel by 35%, which led Israel to slowly reduce the number of megawatts it supplied the Strip from 125 to 75.

An Egyptian-brokered agreement in early October originally set a December 1 deadline for the terror group to fully transfer power in the Gaza Strip back to the Palestinian Authority, which is dominated by PA Abbas’s Fatah party, though that was later pushed back to December 10, but that deadline passed too.

Hamas has demanded Abbas lift all sanctions he placed on the Strip as part of reconciliation measures.

The sanctions also included deep cuts to the salaries of thousands of government employees in Gaza, as well as cuts in medical aid.

PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah said in televised statements that the electricity was being restored as part of the reconciliation process.

A Palestinian street vendor waits for customers during a power cut in Gaza City, on April 20, 2017. (AFP Photo/Mohammed Abed)

In recent weeks, the PA has begun to restore its medical aid to the Strip as well.

Despite the slow lifting of sanctions on the Strip by Abbas, both Fatah and Hamas continued to say the reconciliation process was close to failure, largely over the issue of what will happen to Hamas’s military wing.

“Whoever doesn’t see that reconciliation is collapsing is blind,” said Hamas Gaza chief Yahya Sinwar in December.

“Some people want reconciliation on Israeli and American terms, which means handing over weapons and the tunnel and rocket capabilities,” Sinwar added.

Hamas’s new deputy leader Salah al-Arouri (seated L) and Fatah’s Azzam al-Ahmad (seated R) sign a reconciliation deal in Cairo on October 12, 2017, as the two rival Palestinian movements work to end their decade-long split following negotiations overseen by Egypt. (AFP Photo/Khaled Desouki)

Hamas claimed in December that it had handed over control of all government ministries, but Fatah’s top negotiator Azzam al-Ahmad later said “obstacles” remained.

Since the start of this reconciliation process between rival Palestinian factions — several others have failed in the past — the question over the fate of Hamas’s 25,000-strong military wing has been a thorny issue between the sides.

Abbas wants the PA to be in full control of all weapons and security in the Gaza Strip, but Hamas is refusing to give up its arsenal. Hamas, which seeks the destruction of Israel, has fought three wars with Israel since seizing power from Fatah in the enclave in 2007.

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