Palestinians Slam Israel's West Bank Power Project: 'Meant to Support Settlements'

The master plan is designated to serve both Jewish settlements and the Palestinians, but the PA's opposition might prevent its implementation in the Palestinian territories

Power substation near the Jenin area in the West Bank, 2017.
Abed Omar Qusini/REUTERS

The Palestinian Authority's Energy Authority has condemned an Israeli master plan for the development of an electricity grid in the West Bank, saying that it is designed "to establish Israeli sovereignty in the West Bank and to support the brutal presence of the settlements on our land."

The plan, which was not coordinated with the PA and is in the process of being approved by Israel's National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Ministry, seeks for the first time to provide a blueprint for the electricity market in the West Bank through 2040 and to develop infrastructure for Israeli settlements as well as for the Palestinians residing there.

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The Israeli portion of the plan, which is devoted to the settlements, is to be funded, planned and executed by Israel.

However, it calls for the Palestinian Authority to carry out the Palestinian portion of the plan. Therefore, if the PA refuses to agree to it, that portion won't be implemented.

The IEC supplies 99 percent of the electricity market in the West Bank, according to a 2017 World Bank report. The IEC's own financial report for 2018 states that during that year, the consumption of electricity from the Palestinian Authority constituted 7 percent of the Israeli power utility's customers.

According to the new plan, the existence of which was first reported last week by the Israel Hayom daily, the IEC will build a network of high-tension transmission lines, which is the most expensive component of the plan and will serve both the settlements and the Palestinians in the West Bank.

However, the Palestinian substations, where the high-tension electricity supplied is lowered to middle-level voltage and distributed to individual households, is to be planned and built by the PA. The substations for the settlements will be built by Israel.

The plan estimates the initial cost of the project at between 3 and 4 billion shekels ($870 million to $1.2 billion), and states that by 2040, six substations would be built for the settlements and eight for the Palestinians. The Israeli stations would be in Area C, the portion of the West Bank under full Israeli control. The Palestinian stations would be in Area B, which is under Palestinian civil control and Israeli security control and would not be subject to Israeli planning authorities. The IEC's feeder lines would be in Area C.

But It is not only the PA that views the plan as an effort to advance annexation in the West Bank. The plan was warmly greeted by the Jewish settlements, with the chairman of the Gush Etzion Regional Council, Shlomo Ne'eman, saying: "All moves point to sovereignty, and when we build infrastructure, there is also a basic understanding that the State of Israel is the sovereign. We are pleased that more and more government ministries have realized that this sovereignty is the reality."

Professionals in the Israeli electricity market who are familiar with the plan rejected the claim that its release now is part of Israel's annexation efforts. The planning began about two years ago, the sources said, and the need for long-term planning was also recognized years ago, primarily after the Palestinian electricity market grew substantially.

Asked by Haaretz why PA officials were not involved in the plan, the sources explained that from a legal standpoint, the IEC is obligated first to get approval for development plans from the Israeli Energy Ministry, and therefore, according to one Israeli official, "There was no point at this stage in involving external figures."

The officials clarified that they are aware of the PA's electricity demand through their ongoing contact with the Palestinian Electricity Authority, as well as data from the Palestinian statistics bureau and the Palestinian Electricity Transmission Authority. When asked whether the installation of substations for the settlements would require expropriation of privately-owned Palestinian land, Israeli authorities said that the plan does not designate the exact locations of the stations at this time.

Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem and the West Bank have been experiencing extended electricity shortages in recent months, including repeated power cuts. The problem began over a debt that the Jerusalem District Electricity Company, which serves East Jerusalem and the West Bank, owed to the IEC, which initiated rolling blackouts. The debt was settled but West Bank residents continue to experience power failures, which the IEC has said are the result of inadequate Palestinian infrastructure.

Apart from the Israeli master plan, four substations are currently being established in the West Bank with funding from the European Investment Bank. Once the stations are up and running, the IEC will provide them power.

A Palestinian plan to establish a private 450 megawatt power station in the Jenin area is currently underway. The plan should help the Palestinians reduce their dependence on the IEC. Tenders are currently being issued for the station's construction.

One official who was involved in drafting the Israeli master plan said that it would help serve the Palestinian market even if the supply of Israeli electricity is reduced, since it would allow the PA to use substations built within the framework of the plan.