The Palestinian Authority would start taking practical steps to reduce Palestinian dependency on the Israeli economy, Finance Minister Khalid al-Asili said Tuesday. Measures include attempts to end dependency on Israeli electricity, to keep Israeli products off the Palestinian market, and to slash referrals of Palestinian patients to Israeli hospitals, the minister said.
Al-Asili, who was interviewed by Voice of Palestine radio, said that the PA will begin building solar energy plants in order to minimize dependence on the Israel Electric Company and that they have begun initial contacts with the World Bank to advance the process.
He added that the PA is also examining options to keep Israeli products off the Palestinian market, including foodstuffs. According to the minister, the PA is planning a campaign to subsidize the purchase of Palestinian products in order to reduce the demand for Israeli products.
Al-Asili also spoke of the continuing policy of disengagement from the Israeli health system.
Given that the Palestinian health system, both in Gaza and the West Bank, is unable to provide many medical services, including complicated operations, cancer treatments and dialysis, many patients get referred to Israeli hospitals. Currently, the cost of the referrals to Palestinians is estimated at tens of millions of shekels every year. Al-Asili, however, said the PA would continue reducing referrals of Palestinian patients to Israeli hospitals.
The minister did not detail a timetable for the PA to implement the measures, but said the steps would be taken in part as retribution to Israel's decision to withhold a part of Palestinian tax funds.
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Since Israel began withholding tax funds equal to the amount the PA transfers to the families of Palestinian security prisoners in February, the authority significantly decreased the number of patients referred to hospitals in Israel. According to Al-Asili, patients who need treatments unavailable in Palestinian hospitals are referred to hospitals in Jordan and Egypt. He added that the PA is also developing contacts with hospitals in Turkey.
The decision to stop referring patients to Israeli hospitals was made several months ago, a Palestinian source told Haaretz, but the trend is moving toward a complete disengagement from the Israeli health system.
The Israeli unit for Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories confirmed in conversation with Haaretz that the PA is stopping the transfer of patients to Israeli hospitals.
According to the unit, only patients who were approved prior to Israel's decision to withhold the funds in February are still receiving treatment in Israel, the rest are referred to hospitals in the West Bank or in East Jerusalem.