Deal With Qatar to Boost Gaza's Power Supply May Ease Crisis in Strip

Israel hopes development will reduce risk of war with Hamas ■ Qatari aid aims to raise average from four to eight hours of electricity a day

Amos Harel
Amos Harel
A Palestinian family warms themselves with a fire outside their house during a power cut, Khan Younis, Gaza Strip, January 15, 2017.
A Palestinian family warms themselves with a fire outside their house during a power cut, Khan Younis, Gaza Strip, January 15, 2017.Credit: Khalil Hamra,AP
Amos Harel
Amos Harel

There may be some relief in store for the electricity shortage in the Gaza Strip. Under an agreement drawn up in recent weeks, Qatar will finance the purchase of fuel for Gaza’s power plant.

The arrangement, which is supposed to go into effect in the coming days, will allow a significant increase in the supply of power to Gaza residents. Israel hopes that this development, which should provide an immediate improvement to residents’ daily lives, will reduce the risk of a military confrontation with Hamas.

Gaza now gets around four hours of electricity a day. The Qatari aid, estimated to be tens of millions of dollars, aims to raise the average to eight hours a day.

>> Analysis: Deadly Gaza clashes: Hamas is deliberately testing Israel

As Haaretz reported last week, talks on this issue have been taking place over the past few months under the UN envoy to the region, Nickolay Mladenov. Qatar was represented by its envoy to Israel and the territories, Mohammed al-Amedi. The Israeli official most involved was National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat. The breakthrough was reached at the conference of countries that donate to the Palestinians, which took place last week in New York alongside the UN General Assembly sessions.

Previous talks had raised the possibility of increasing the electricity supply from Israel by upgrading the power line from Israel to Gaza, but this proposal met with difficulties because the Palestinian Authority objected. Understandings reached in the past regarding electricity were linked to legal and financial commitments by the PA. But Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has refused moves to improve the electricity supply in Gaza unless there is progress in the PA-Hamas reconciliation talks.

Despite Egyptian mediation efforts, the gap between Hamas and the PA remains wide. At the heart of the dispute is Hamas’ refusal to subordinate its security services to the PA, even if the latter agrees to take over civilian authority in Gaza and redeploy its personnel there.

>> Opinion: War in Gaza: Palestinians die. Israelis die. Only Hamas wins

In recent weeks there has been a gradual escalation in tension between Hamas and Israel in the Gaza Strip. The group has increased the pace of demonstrations along the border fence, which are now taking place almost every night. Hamas’ “night raid units” have been planting explosive devices and throwing hand grenades near the fence and their members have been breaching the fence to sabotage construction of the anti-tunnel barrier.

Friday’s bloodshed in the Gaza Strip – seven Palestinians killed by Israeli fire, including two boys 12 and 14, and dozens wounded – was the worst in almost two months. According to the army, around 20,000 Palestinians took part in Friday’s protests, almost double the previous week’s number. Moreover, Palestinians threw more than 100 improvised bombs and grenades at the soldiers. These numbers attest to advance planning and preparation.

The Israel Defense Forces have expressed concern that incidents will lead to a military clash in the Strip. On the background of the ongoing confrontations, a dispute has emerged between Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Bennett has accused Lieberman of conducting a “defeatist” policy vis-a-vis Hamas. Lieberman claims Bennett is attacking him for political reasons, on the assumption that early elections will soon be announced.

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