In face-off with Hamas, PA says it will not pay Gaza’s electric bills

PA President Mahmoud Abbas has warned over the past two weeks that he will take “unprecedented measures,” if Hamas does not concede some of its control over Gaza to the PA.

A view shows Gaza's power plant through a barbed fence in the central Gaza Strip January 16, 2017 (photo credit: REUTERS)
A view shows Gaza's power plant through a barbed fence in the central Gaza Strip January 16, 2017
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Amid an ongoing fight between the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority and Hamas, the PA informed Israel that it is stopping payments for electricity that Israel supplies to the Gaza Strip.
The announcement came in the form of a statement by the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories. PA officials declined to comment on the decision.
The decision could make an existing electricity crisis in Gaza ever more dire for the Strip’s two million residents.
The move is a part of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s efforts to pressure Hamas to return control of Gaza to the PA. Abbas warned two weeks ago that he would take “unprecedented measures” to end the division between the West Bank and Gaza, if Hamas does not concede its control of the Strip.
Qatar donated $12 million of fuel to offset Gaza power shortage (credit: REUTERS)
Hamas has said that it will not give into Abbas’s threats.
Since the split between the West Bank and Gaza in 2007, the PA has covered the monthly cost of NIS 40 million for electricity that Israel delivers to Gaza.
Fatah Central Committee member Abbas Zaki said that the PA is demanding Hamas dissolve its administrative committee and enable the PA government to operate in the Strip.
“They have to make these moves if we are going to end the division,” Zaki told The Jerusalem Post in a telephone call.
Hamas formed an administrative committee to govern Gaza in March. Hamas officials have said that it was created to make up for the PA government’s neglect of the Strip.
The administrative committee infuriated Abbas and other Palestinian Authority officials, who hold that Hamas has systematically prevented the PA government from working in the Gaza Strip.
Hamas took over Gaza in 2007 in a bloody coup, leading to the de facto formation of two separate governments in the West Bank and Gaza. Despite multiple agreements between Hamas and Fatah to unify the Palestinian territories, the rival sides have failed to bring the two territories under one government.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said the PA’s decision to forgo paying for the electricity Israel transfers to Gaza constitutes “a dangerous escalation and a fit of insanity.”
Hamas official Ismail Rudwan reacted with fury, warning of “an explosion in the face of the Zionist occupation” and saying that anyone who had “collaborated with the occupation” would have cause for regret, whether from the Palestinian Authority or not.
“We will not pay a political price for this crime,” Radwan said.
Israel has not said how it will handle the crisis. It is possible that Israel will use part of the customs taxes it collects on behalf of the PA to pay for Gaza’s electricity needs.
The electricity Israel transfers to the Gaza Strip accounts for approximately 120 megawatts, more than half of Gaza’s current electrical output. An electrical line from Egypt provides 27 megawatts, and a power station, when fueled, delivers between 60 to 80 megawatts. The power station has not been working for almost two weeks due to a lack of fuel. Gaza needs a total of 420 megawatts.
During an electricity crisis in January, Turkey and Qatar sent millions of dollars and liters of fuel to power Gaza’s power plant. It is unclear if Turkey, Qatar or other members of the international community will send aid to power the Strip.
The Palestinian Authority also cut 30% of its Gaza-based employees’ salaries in early April in a separate move to put pressure on Hamas.
Jihad Harb, a political researcher and analyst, said that Abbas hopes Hamas will give up control of the Gaza Strip to the PA or that the people of Gaza will rise up against Hamas.
Harb added that Abbas also wants to show the international community, and particularly the United States, that he is serious about putting an end to the dispute.
“The international community says that Abbas is weak in Gaza,” Harb said. “So Abbas wants to show it that he is serious about ending the division and represents the interests of all Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.”
Abbas is slated to arrive in Washington on May 3 to meet with US President Donald Trump to discuss the possibility of reviving the peace process.
The PA president is reportedly considering a number of other moves to pressure Hamas further, including slashing budgets for education, healthcare and water in the Gaza Strip.
Reuters contributed to this report.