Israeli Government Says Not Behind Electric Corp. Decision to Cut West Bank Power

Official in PMO says company's decision to halt electricity over Palestinian debt was 'independent;' PMO and defense ministry have balked in past at such threats from the Israel Electric Corp.

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Smokestacks at an Israel Electric Corp power station are seen from the Mediterranean, some 10 kilometers from Hadera. January 22, 2014.
Smokestacks at an Israel Electric Corp power station are seen from the Mediterranean, some 10 kilometers from Hadera. January 22, 2014. Credit: Reuters

Officials in the Prime Minister's Office said Monday night that the Israel Electric Corporation's decision to cut off power to hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in the West Bank was an "independent" decision of the company and was not ordered by the political echelon.

A senior Israeli official aware of the developments behind the decision told Haaretz that the Israel Electric Corporation told the various government ministries of the unilateral decision only one to two hours before temporarily cutting power in Jenin and Nablus.

The official said that the electric company had approached the Prime Minister's Office and the Defense Ministry a number of times over the last few weeks, threatening to cut power in response to the Palestinian Authority's debt – which stands at some 2 billion shekels. The company sounded similar threats a few months prior, as well.

As in the past, the PMO, the Defense Minister's bureau and the Coordinator for Government Activities in the Territories [COGAT] issued their vehement opposition to such an action.

National Security Adviser Yossi Cohen told officials from the electric company over the last few weeks that the implications of such an action would be dangerous.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon and COGAT Yoav Mordechai voiced their complete opposition as well, fearing the humanitarian and diplomatic implications it would cause.

Although the electric corporation has been warning about the rising Palestinian debt for almost two years, the PMO and government ministries have not entertained the options of covering the debt or waiving the debt. Every time the electric corporation threatened to cut the power flow, the PMO has simply responded that this was a diplomatic matter and that it would not allow such a move.

Cohen will hold an emergency meeting Wednesday with the defense ministry, the finance ministry, the energy ministry and the electric corporation.

The head of the board of directors of Northern Electric and the mayor of Nablus, Ghassan Shaka, said 18 municipal councils in the West Bank's large cities of Nablus and Jenin area were cut off for about one hour, as an initial warning, causing disruptions in factories and companies. Dozens of people were also stranded in elevators.

Shaka called on Palestinian citizens to pay their debts to the Palestinian Northern Electric company, so that it would be able to pay its debt to the Israeli electricity company.

The Israeli electrical company said in a statement the Palestinian Authority and Palestinian companies owed it 1.9 billion shekels ($487 million) and that it had sent many notices warning of the pending step.

"The Israel Electric Corp. is committed to operate under the law to reduce the debt," the electric company said in a statement. "The Electric Corp. is compelled to act so as not to increase the debt beyond 2 billion shekels."

Electric company officials said the move was meant to pressure the Palestinian Authority to either collect the debt or at least reduce it. They said the company has also petitioned the High Court of Justice to require the state to reach an agreement to resolve the debt. The hearing is scheduled for April.

Palestinian officials have warned that if the Israeli government does not transfer frozen tax revenues collected on behalf of the Palestinians, the Palestinian Authority would break off security coordination with Israel.

Israel collects customs on goods that enter the Palestinian territories via its ports and airport. It has frozen the transfer of that money as "punishment" for "unilateral moves" by the Palestinians, including requests to join international organizations.

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