Israel Electric Company Ends West Bank Power Cuts After Palestinians Pay Debt

Sporadic three-hour power cuts in large cities due to debt of Palestinian electric company constitute 'collective punishment,' Palestinian officials said

Electricians install new power transmission lines at a construction site in the West Bank city of Ramallah, 2015.
REUTERS

Israel's state-owned electric company said on Wednesday it was ending power cuts to the occupied West Bank after the Palestinians' main power distributor paid off a chunk of debt.

Israel Electric Corp (IEC) began sporadic, three-hour power cuts on December 18 to press for payment of some $519 million owed by the Jerusalem District Electricity Company (JDECO).

Palestinians in the West Bank rely on IEC for over 95 percent of their electricity supply. The cuts led to power outages in the cities of Ramallah and Bethlehem, affecting an estimated 130,000 people, according to JDECO.

JDECO had said that the debt had accumulated because many residents were not paying their electric bills. Another reason, it said, was the illegal electricity connections in the homes of residents, particularly in refugee camps.

PA officials had previously stated that the decision constituted collective punishment and would deal a serious blow to the Palestinian economy, as well as to its health and education systems. While payments to IEC are made by JDECO and other Palestinian entities, the power itself is used by ordinary Palestinians who have no mechanism for paying their bills directly to the Israeli utility.

IEC Chairman Yiftah Ron-Tal said the company was stopping the cuts after "JDECO transferred 740 million shekels ($214.21 million) of debt accumulated by the Palestinian Authority (PA) since 2016".

JDECO buys electricity from IEC and then sells it to customers in the West Bank, where the PA has limited self-rule under interim peace accords.

JDECO signed a loan agreement with several Palestinian banks in order to pay off the debt it owed, said Mansour Nassar, the company's assistant general manager for technical affairs.

The Palestinians have tried to reduce what they call their dependence on Israel for energy, in part through state- and private sector-funded solar energy projects and plans to build their own power plants. 

Jack Khoury contributed to this report.