Israel Disrupts Power to Major West Bank City, Plans Daily Outages Over Palestinian Debt

Power-supply reductions and interruptions in Bethlehem and other cities due to the Palestinian Authority's accumulated debt of 1.7 billion shekels, say Israel Electric Corp. officials.

Workers in a Nablus factory during a cut in power initiated by the Israel Electric Corporation in February, 2015.
Nablus factory workers during a power cut by the IEC last year. Reuters

The Israel Electric Corporation cut power Monday to large areas of the West Bank city of Bethlehem. The outage was part of a plan to disrupt the power supply in various districts of the West Bank over the next two weeks, in response to the failure of the Palestinian Authority and the Jerusalem District Electricity Company to pay their electricity bills.

The PA now owes an accumulated debt of 1.7 billion shekels ($449 million) to the Israeli electricity giant, according to company officials. They say that despite recent meetings on the issue, they do not foresee a resolution in which the PA will fully or even partly repay its debts.
Hisham al-Omari, CEO of the JDECO, told Haaretz that his company received a notice on Sunday night regarding interruptions in electricity in the district of Ramallah and El Bireh.

However, the IEC changed its plan and informed the JDECO Monday morning that the Bethlehem region would be affected between 2 P.M. and 6 P.M. that day.

Omari said that the East Jerusalem-based Palestinian electric company has no contingency plan for this situation other than to warn the public to make their own preparations.

The IEC also reduced power in the Jericho area over the weekend.
According to Omari, the decision to shift interruptions and electricity cuts from place to place doesn't constitute an easing of the burden, but rather cruelty and collective punishment toward Palestinian residents. He said the debt in the dispute between the IEC and the PA stems from differences over electricity rates and calculations of interest payments.

IEC representatives confirmed that there is a dispute over these issues, but added that they do not fully explain the mounting debt. “The disagreements can perhaps reduce the debt by a few percentage points, but not [account for] 1.7 billion shekels, so we have been forced to act,” said one official.

The Palestinian electric company supplies electricity to a third of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, El Bireh, Ramallah, Bethlehem and Jericho. Officials at that company assert that the PA also owes them money — to the tune of half a billion shekels — in addition to its debt to the IEC, which totals 300 million shekels.

The IEC has also consulted with Israeli government officials to explore whether they can offset the debt with the taxes collected by Israel on behalf of the Palestinian Authority.