Israeli Cabinet Decides to Reduce Gaza Electricity Supply at Palestinian President's Request

Heated discussion over electricity policy comes amid humanitarian concerns and highlights 'the trap we are in in Gaza,' says official

Palestinians gather around a fire during a power cut in the Al-Shati refugee camp in Gaza City, on January 4, 2017.
AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS

The security cabinet decided Sunday to respond to the request of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and reduce the supply of electricity to the Gaza Strip. 

An Israeli official familiar with the details of the meeting said that the ministers accepted the Israeli army's recommendation against leniency toward Hamas and to act in accordance with Abbas' decision to reduce the amount of money he is transferring to Israel for the supply of electricity.

The official said that during the meeting, Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, head of the Military Intelligence Directorate Herzi Halevi and Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Yoav Mordechai described a worsening economic and humanitarian situation in Gaza. Military commanders believe that further reductions in the electricity supply to Gaza are likely to hasten escalation in violence. However, the official said that Israeli army officials who participated in the meeting did not advise leniency toward Hamas. According to him, Mordechai proposed that Israel adopt a policy that would not contradict Abbas' position.

During the meeting, Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz criticized Mordechai, saying that he was "fulfilling the commands" of Abbas. Mordechai responded angrily. "I really salute Abu Mazen (Abbas)," Mordechai said to Steinitz sarcastically while accusing him of leaking negative information about him to the press. "In the cabinet meeting, the trap we are in in Gaza really stood out," said the official. "On one hand, we want to work with Abbas and not let up on Hamas. But on the other hand, it will all fall on us in the end."

A few weeks ago, Abbas informed Israel that he would cut by 40 percent the amount of money he transfers to Israel to provide electricity in Gaza. Abbas made the decision as part of his attempt to put heavy pressure on Hamas. Israel responded that the supply would be cut according to the payments received. The reduction is expected to worsen the already difficult humanitarian situation in Gaza.

Abbas' decision to nearly halve the funds given to Israel for Gaza's electricity supply has cause significant concern in recent weeks, with the UN's Special Coordinator for the Middle East Nickolay Mladenov warning of "ensuing violence and escalation" as a result of reductions.

But electricity isn't the only leverage being used by Abbas to pressure Hamas. Last month, the Health Ministry in Gaza warned that the Palestinian Authority was planning to stop providing medicines and baby formula to hospitals in the Gaza Strip, and said it could have disastrous consequences for residents in the enclave.