Israel transferred responsibility for a new electrical substation outside the West Bank city of Jenin to the Palestinian Authority on Monday. This is the first time Israel has given the PA ownership of electricity infrastructure.
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The Jenin substation won’t produce its own electricity; all the power will continue to come from Israel. But under the agreement signed Monday, the PA will have authority for operating and maintaining the plant, as well as over distribution of the electricity.
The Israel Electric Corporation said it is building three other substations in the West Bank, in Tarqumiya, Nablus and Ramallah; all will be operational within months. Israel and the Palestinian Authority are now negotiating a transfer of responsibility for these stations as well. The European Union, which helped build the substations, is also involved in the talks.
The Jenin substation will help alleviate the chronic electricity shortages in the northern West Bank by providing about 60 megawatts of power. Most of this power will go to the cities of Jenin, Tubas and Qabatiyah.
Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz and Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah both attended the signing ceremony in Ramallah.
Hamdallah termed the new substation an “important national project,” adding that it is just one of “a series of projects the Palestinian government is advancing throughout the West Bank, and which will constitute the basis for the institutions of a future Palestinian state.”
Ultimately, he said, the Palestinian Authority must create an independent system for electricity production and distribution. Both the international community and the private sector have already begun working toward this goal, he noted, but the PA needs help from both the international community and Israel to achieve it.
In the meantime, Hamdallah urged Israel to build more power plants in the West Bank, saying this would “enable us to develop and use our natural resources, especially in Area C,” the part of the West Bank under full Israeli control.
“Israel is interested in promoting infrastructure in the Palestinian Authority,” Steinitz replied, “and here you have the first example of fruitful cooperation. And this certainly encourages a continuation.”
The agreement, he added, ensures that the electricity used by Palestinians “doesn’t fall on the shoulders of Israeli customers” by creating “a hermetic seal” between the Israeli and the Palestinian power supply.
The current agreement is an outgrowth of another Israeli-Palestinian agreement signed last September, which sought to resolve the issue of the PA’s ballooning debt to the IEC. Under that agreement, Israel wrote off hundreds of millions of shekels of the debt, which came to about two billion shekels ($560 million) in total. A repayment schedule was set up for the rest.