The Gaza electricity crisis has given Israel the option to help Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in his bid to oust Hamas from its 10-year rule of the Gaza Strip.On Thursday, the PA told Israel it would immediately stop paying for the electricity Israel provides the Gaza Strip.Israel now has to decide whether to provide power to Gaza.
Without Israeli electricity, the Strip would be plunged into darkness. Its 2 million residents would have only about an hour a day of power.The IDF has already warned that such a move could push the Strip to the boiling point and spark another war with Israel.But it could also help Abbas push Hamas to the breaking point, a decade after it seized control there from Fatah, in a bloody coup.The end of Hamas rule could end the Gaza rocket attacks against Israel, one of the primary reasons for the three Gaza wars in the last decade. Just a week ago, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the Knesset State Control Committee that Israel’s only choices with Hamas in charge of the Strip are deterrence or occupation.On Thursday, Abbas appeared to provide Israel with another option. On the surface, the end of PA payments seems like nothing new.The PA has a long history of not paying its debts to the Israel Electric Corporation. Israel has often deducted the necessary sums from the taxes and the import tariff fees it collects and then transfers to the PA.But it has done so in a situation where the PA has not paid its bills, not in a situation where the PA has canceled the service.On Thursday, Israel continued to provide electricity to Gaza, and it will likely do so on Friday and through the weekend. A decision will have to be taken soon, however, on whether to continue to do so.That decision will have far-ranging implications, because providing the electricity would make it more difficult for Abbas to pressure Hamas, something that is also in Israel’s interest. But even with Israeli electricity, Gaza is already in crisis.Until this month Gaza had operated on eight hours a day of electricity, receiving about 250 megawatts. It lacks the infrastructure for a normative flow of electricity of 450-500 MW.Earlier this month the PA refused to extend the tax-free status of the diesel fuel necessary to run Gaza’s sole power plant. The high tax doubled the price of the fuel, forcing the plant’s shutdown. Without the power plant, Palestinians in Gaza have subsisted at four to six hours a day, relying on the 125 MW that flows from Israel over 10 electricity lines. Gaza also receives 27 MW from Egypt, over three lines.For the last decade Israel has hoped to push Hamas out of power by holding Gaza at subsistence level.It has facilitated the passage of food, water, utilities, basic necessities and limited commercial goods into Gaza, while at the same time placing restrictions on the Strip that prevented trade from flourishing.Israel’s middle of the road actions earned it international condemnation, but did little to weaken Hamas, whose military might has only grown.Abbas’s sudden series of draconian measures against Hamas could break that paradigm, and offer a new option to remove Hamas from power. But it’s an option that could also lead to a humanitarian disaster. That’s a price that Israel has thus far been unwilling to accept.
Qatar donated $12 million of fuel to offset Gaza power shortage (credit: REUTERS)