Palestinian City Warns It Will Seek International Redress if Israel Doesn't Halt Power Plant Approval

Authorities in Qalqilyah, located in the West Bank right on the Israeli border, say plant near city would harm residents' health and the environment

A general view shows a crowded Palestinian neighborhood in the West Bank city of Qalqiliyah, 2017.
AP Photo/Nasser Nasser

The West Bank Palestinian city of Qalqilyah has informed Israel that if the approval process for a new power plant near the city isn't stopped, it will seek redress in international legal institutions, claiming the plant would be harmful to residents.

In a letter to Israel’s National Infrastructure Committee and its Civil Administration in the West Bank, the city said the plant will endanger its residents’ health and the environment. It also complained that city officials were given no opportunity to present their objections to the plan.

According to Israel’s national infrastructure plan 91, a plant to produce electricity from natural gas, with a capacity of 1,300 megawatts, is slated to be built by a private company on the Israeli side of the border with the West Bank, just across from Qalqilyah. The company, Reindeer, located a spot and submitted a plan to the National Infrastructure Committee, and the committee approved the plan this month, saying it was vital for Israel’s electricity grid and wouldn’t harm the environment.

The plan still requires cabinet approval, but after that, construction can begin, with no further permits needed.

The plant was fiercely opposed by nearby Israeli communities, including the city of Kfar Sava. They argued that the plant would pollute air throughout the area, especially since it will sometimes be powered by diesel, which is much more polluting than natural gas. They also said that the plant would be a target for attacks in the event of a war, and therefore shouldn’t be located near heavily populated areas.

Qalqilyah, a city of around 40,000 residents, is located right on the 1967 line that marks the border between the Palestinian territories and Israel. Its is home to a busy checkpoint, and to several refugee camps that have grown into crowded, impoverished neighborhoods. The city itself is legally under the control of the Palestinian Authority for civilan matters, but a substantial portion of the lands around it are under full Israeli control (what is known as Area C). Except for a narrow corridor, it is currently surrounded by Israel's security fence.

The city opposed the plant like its Israeli neighbors and sought to present its position to the committee. It said the plant would be located just hundreds of meters from the city’s residential areas and would endanger residents.

Additionally, the city said, large quantities of fuel would be stored at the plant, and any leak could endanger the local groundwater, which is an important source of drinking water for Qalqilyah and other Palestinian towns in the area.

It also protested that Palestinian authorities weren’t party to the planning process. The Oslo Accords require that the Palestinians be consulted about any plan that will directly affect them, the city said, and therefore, they should have been involved in preparing the plant’s environmental impact statement.

In its letter on Tuesday, the city complained that Israel even prevented its representatives from appearing before the National Infrastructure Committee and explaining their concerns. The committee did authorize them to appear, it said, but gave them only two hours’ notice, which isn’t enough time to arrange the permits Palestinians need to enter Israel.

“It’s impossible not to view this as using the military occupation to prevent the Palestinians and their representatives from making their voices heard,” the letter said.

The committee also refused to accept written objections to the plan from Qalqilyah, it added.

Consequently, it warned, if the plan’s approval process isn’t halted, the city will immediately seek redress.

No comment on the city’s complaints has been received from either the Civil Administration or the infrastructure committee as of Thursday night.