Palestinian Authority threatens to sever Gaza electricity — report

Ahead of visit by top US negotiators, Mahmoud Abbas says he will stop paying all bills for Hamas terror group if there is no change soon

PA President Mahmoud Abbas (R) meets with Meretz chairwoman Zehava Galon (2nd R) at the presidential residence in Ramallah, West Bank, on August 20, 2017. (Osama Falah / Wafa)
PA President Mahmoud Abbas (R) meets with Meretz chairwoman Zehava Galon (2nd R) at the presidential residence in Ramallah, West Bank, on August 20, 2017. (Osama Falah / Wafa)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas reportedly threatened Sunday to cut off all financial support to the Gaza Strip, unless the Hamas terror group which controls the coastal enclave works together with Abbas’s Fatah party.

The comments came during a meeting with Israeli lawmakers, during which the Palestinian leader also said the Trump administration was in chaos and not moving forward on peace efforts.

According to Israel’s Channel 2, when MK Zahava Galon, of the dovish Meretz party, chided Abbas for having cut payments for Israeli electricity earlier this year, Abbas responded that he might not stop there.

“We transfer $1.5 billion a year, but after Hamas declared its own government, we discontinued 25 percent of our support to Gaza,” Abbas said, according to the report.

“We fear that if there is no change soon, that will gradually reach 100%,” he said.

Earlier this year, Abbas said he would stop transferring some money to Israel to pay for electricity in the Strip. Israel refused to make up the difference, leading to fears of a looming humanitarian crisis in the impoverished enclave already beset by problems providing drinking water and treating sewage.

Galon had told Abbas she disapproved of steps taken by the Palestinian leader to isolate the Gaza Strip as a means of pressuring Hamas, the de facto ruler of the enclave.

Abbas and Hamas have led rival governments since the Islamic terror group seized Gaza in 2007, driving out forces loyal to the Western-backed Palestinian president.

After several failed reconciliation attempts, Abbas’s spokesman said in May that the Palestinian Authority would pressure Hamas financially to force it to cede ground.

Steps against Hamas could bolster Abbas’s claims that he speaks for all Palestinians when he meets with American officials due to visit in the next few days.

US President Donald Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, Special Envoy for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt, and Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategy Dina Powell will all soon head to the Middle East, according to the White House, and will meet with leaders from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Jordan, Egypt, Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Trump has asked his delegation to focus the talks on this trip around several broad themes, inclusive finding “a path to substantive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, combating extremism [and dealing with] the situation in Gaza, including how to ease the humanitarian crisis there,” according to a senior White House official.

According to various estimates by the PA and Israel, Hamas raises NIS 100 million ($28 million) every month in taxes from the residents of Gaza. A significant part of that amount covers the wages of its members. But a large portion is diverted for military purposes. Estimates say Hamas is spending some $130 million a year on its military wing and preparations for war.

Hamas could easily step in to pay for the electricity from Israel that Abbas is no longer willing to cover. But it adamantly refuses to do so. It stubbornly insists that the PA should pay the entire bill, without clarifying why.

In June, top military officials, including IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, warned that cutting power to Hamas could lead to an escalation in violence.

Israel and Hamas have fought three wars since 2008.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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