Palestinians say Netanyahu, not Abbas, to blame for Gaza crisis

After electricity cut at PA leader’s request in bid to pressure Hamas, Ramallah claims divisions caused by Israeli presence in West Bank and blockade on coastal enclave

Palestinian children at home reading books by candlelight due to electricity shortages in Gaza City, June 13, 2017. (AFP/Thomas Coex)
Palestinian children at home reading books by candlelight due to electricity shortages in Gaza City, June 13, 2017. (AFP/Thomas Coex)

The Palestinian Authority on Wednesday blamed Israel for an energy crisis in Gaza, after Israel acceded to a request by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to slash the amount of power it transfers to the beleaguered Strip and defended the move by saying the matter was an internal Palestinian rift.

Youssef Mahmoud, a spokesperson for the PA, said in a statement Wednesday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was unfairly attempting to exculpate Israel in the crisis in the Gaza Strip.

“The simplification of his portrayal [of the crisis] as an internal dispute over the payment of the electric bill does not absolve the Netanyahu government from taking responsibility,” he said.

On Tuesday, Netanyahu said the crisis was not Israel’s to get involved with, defending Israel’s decision to allow Abbas to slash the electricity it transfers to Gaza by some 40 percent.

“The issue of electricity in Gaza is a dispute between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. Hamas is demanding that the PA pay for the electricity, and the Palestinian Authority is refusing to pay. It is an internal Palestinian dispute,” Netanyahu said. Most see Abbas’s request to slash electricity as a tactic to increase pressure on rival Hamas.

Israeli officials are reportedly attempting to enlist international donors to make up the shortfall, fearing a humanitarian crisis in the Strip could inflame tensions and lead to an outbreak of violence.

Mahmoud said the rift between Abbas’s Fatah faction and Gaza’s Hamas rulers, which was caused by Israel, was not the cause of the crisis.

“The reason behind [the crisis]…is the existence of the Israeli occupation and the siege [of Gaza] that has stricken the Gaza Strip for 10 years. Furthermore, the disastrous [Hamas] coup would not have happened were it not for the existence of the occupation, the siege, and the dismemberment of Palestinian lands,” he said.

Israel’s current blockade on Gaza, meant to prevent weapons from getting into the hands of Hamas, was put in place after the Islamist terror group violently took control of the Strip 10 years ago when it pushed out the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority. Israel withdrew entirely from the Gaza Strip in 2005, handing over control to the PA.

“The coup and the [Palestinian] division constitute a pure [Israeli] benefit,” Mahmoud said.

“Netanyahu’s government insists on continuing the occupation, refuses to bring peace, and hastens to obstruct any opportunity to revive the [peace] process. It is the political situation that is driving the internal Palestinian situation to further deterioration,” the spokesman added.

On Sunday the Israeli security cabinet decided it would cut the amount of power it supplies to Gaza, at the request of Abbas who is seeking to ramp up pressure on Hamas, the ruling party in the Strip and his Fatah party’s bitter rival.

Gazans currently receive electricity delivered from the territory’s own power station and others in Israel and Egypt. In April, the PA told Israel that it would only pay NIS 25 million ($11.1 million) of the NIS 40 million ($5.6- 7 million) monthly bill. Israel currently supplies 125 megawatt hours to Gaza, around 30 percent of what is needed to power Gaza for 24 hours a day.

The Israeli cabinet decision would see a reduction of about 45 minutes to the amount of time every day during which Gaza receives electricity, Hebrew media reported.

Hamas responded to the decision by saying it would have “disastrous and dangerous” results that could lead to an outbreak of violence.

Netanyahu said Tuesday that Israel was not seeking a confrontation with Hamas.

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