While it is trendy overseas to condemn Israel on miscellaneous trumped-up charges – including apartheid, wholesale oppression, dispossession, malicious deprivation and much more in the same fallacious vein – few are aware that the Palestinians who are supposedly being oppressed enjoy free electricity courtesy of average Israelis.
The two Palestinian jurisdictions – under Ramallah’s and Gaza City’s control, respectively – have racked up unpaid electricity bills whose total approaches NIS 1.4 billion ($400 million). This debt increases by between NIS 70m. and 90m. each month.
There are no qualms about this in Ramallah or Gaza City. The authorities there are quite content to have ordinary Israelis pay their tab.
The Palestinians’ serial refusal to honor financial obligations – in many spheres, not only vis-à-vis the Israel Electric Corporation – is no secret, yet as the arrears accumulate, the problem becomes harder to ignore.
This in essence is what IEC chairman Yiftah Ron-Tal told the Knesset Finance Committee on Tuesday.
“The IEC shouldn’t have to sustain the losses caused by the PA’s nonpayment of amounts outstanding,” he stressed. “Were private consumers to blithely ignore their utility bills, they’d be disconnected. But our hands are tied… We are plainly not allowed to disconnect the Palestinians from current for which they impudently don’t bother paying.”
The IEC may petition the High Court of Justice to order the government to allow it to cut the power to those who will not pay their bills, Ron-Tal warned.
Every Israeli’s electricity bill will increase if such lawlessness continues, Ron-Tal said. Unless urgent steps are taken to insure immediate reimbursement of the IEC, as well as regular and reliable future payment, the already troubled IEC’s credit rating will likely be downgraded, something that will also cost Israeli consumers, he said.
It is unconscionable “to increase the charges levied on ordinary Israelis because of accrued debts arising from consumption in areas under the PA jurisdiction,” Ron-Tal said. The only thing the IEC can do at this point is to refuse any demands for increased power from the Palestinian Authority and the East Jerusalem Electric Company (which gets its electricity from the IEC and whose installations are inside the Green Line).
In the past, decisions were announced to deduct payments from PA funds in Israel, but international pressure often caused the government to back down.
Having the Treasury compensate the IEC in part or entirely is no solution. This would be taxpayers’ money shelled out via an indirect route; yet again Israeli citizens would be paying debt run up by Palestinians.
The government cannot continue playing nice to avoid damaging our international image at the expense of the economy. We cannot subsidize the PA’s unbridled fiscal delinquency, even if the upshot is bad press and the usual mud-slinging that Israel faces abroad.
The IEC has assorted punitive paths available to it.
It can cause brownouts throughout Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip that would not leave these areas entirely without current but would significantly reduce the power available there.
As the supplier, Israel clearly possesses a range of options to make sure its resources and population are not cynically exploited, especially by forces that lose no opportunity to ingrain enmity to the Jewish state.
To then expect that state to keep footing PA bills is akin to extortion.
If, however, Israel dares to refuse to keep bankrolling Ramallah/Gaza, we can expect to be threatened with another campaign of vilification. Israel must show the PA that it will not be cowed by shakedowns.
At the same time, every effort must be undertaken to keep the PA to its financial commitments.
The current situation is untenable. The government needs to make it clear that it will not suffer financial loss and inflict pain on its citizens just to avoid yet another demonization drive by the Palestinians and their supporters. The more Israel appears to fear slander, the more potent the weapon of slander becomes in the ongoing anti-Israel offensive.