The Israel Electric Company (IEC) on Monday decided that enough was enough and began throttling the flow of electricity to the Palestinian Authority, which for years has refused to pay its bills.
While the move garnered a lot of media attention, it really was less severe than portrayed, and less punishing than many believe the Palestinian Authority deserves.
What the IEC did was cut power to the “West Bank” cities of Nablus (biblical Shechem) and Jenin for a period of no more than 45 minutes. The company said it would repeat the short blackout daily until the Palestinian Authority starts paying off its nearly NIS 2 billion ($500 million) debt.
Palestinian officials tried to link the situation to Israel’s freezing of tax revenues owed to the Palestinian Authority over its unilateral diplomatic maneuvering at the UN and the International Criminal Court. But the truth is that the electrical bills have been mounting for a very long time, with no indication that the Palestinian Authority ever intended to pay.
That was especially infuriating to many Palestinians, who noted that they pay electric bills to the Palestinian Authority every month, begging the question, “Where’s the money?”
Palestinian government-controlled utility companies buy the electricity from the IEC (apparently on credit) and then resell it to the local population.
“I feel like a sucker,” Nablus resident Mahmoud Arafat told Israel’s NRG news website. “I pay my electric bills, but still suffered from the blackout.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stressed that he had not ordered the blackout, and that it had been an internal decision taken by the cash-strapped IEC.
“It was an independent decision that wasn’t done on the orders of the political leadership,” officials in the Prime Minister’s Office told Ha’aretz.
Seemingly ignoring the circumstances, and the fact that the blackout lasted a mere 45 minutes, the Obama Administration expressed “concern” over the move.
Many Israeli politicians have called to use the frozen Palestinian Authority tax revenues to pay the outstanding debt. But, again, the Obama Administration has put pressure on Israel not to do so, insisting that without those funds, the Palestinian Authority could collapse.
It should be remembered that in addition to charging its population for the Israeli-supplied electricity, the Palestinian Authority is the recipient of hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign financial aid every year.