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State now backs power cuts to debt-ridden PA — report

In response to High Court petition against measure, government says it won’t prevent electric company from employing practice

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

An Israel Electric Corporation power plant situated on the Mediterranean coast in Hadera, Israel. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)
An Israel Electric Corporation power plant situated on the Mediterranean coast in Hadera, Israel. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

The government no longer opposes cutting off power to Palestinian cities in the West Bank over a large debt, a reversal of its previous stance on the punitive measure imposed by the state-owned electric company, Army Radio reported Monday.

In a response to a Palestinian petition in the High Court of Justice against the practice, the state noted that although it has the authority to instruct the Israel Electric Corporation to continue supplying Palestinian cities, it would no longer exercise that right.

In late May and early April the IEC began to scale back the electricity flow to Palestinian cities due to almost NIS 2 billion of debt. Power supply to Jericho and Bethlehem was limited, causing some blackouts, and the company threatened to do the same in other West Bank cities.

After Palestinians petitioned against the measure at the time, the High Court instructed the IEC to temporarily halt the cuts pending a response from the government on whether it possessed the authority to intervene in the IEC’s decision.

In its response, the state stressed that the matter had “a clear national security aspect that is at the root of the foreign and defense relations of the country” and therefore fell under its purview.

However, after officials — the acting head of the National Security Council, Yaakov Nagel, among them — considered the situation, they decided to not prevent the IEC from limiting electricity supplies, reversing their previous stance on the matter, the report said.

The electric company says Palestinian authorities in the West Bank have racked up a debt of NIS 1.74 billion ($460 million). Israel in the past forced the IEC to continue to provide electricity out of concern for the Palestinian population, but the electric corporation said earlier this year it could no longer absorb the debt and would take measures to stop it from growing further.

Officials also said they were not informed by the IEC of the planned cuts at the time. The IEC also cuts power to Israeli homes over unpaid debts.

In the meantime the court injunction against the power reductions remains in place until a hearing can be held on the matter.

The Palestinian Authority is struggling financially and depends largely on foreign aid. For power, it relies heavily on Israel, which also provides electricity to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.

Times of Israel staff and agencies contributed to this report.

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