The PA’s electricity tab

The government cannot keep playing nice to avoid damaging the national image at the expense of the economy.

Gaza Strip's power plant 370 (R) (photo credit: Ibraheem Abu Mustafa / Reuters)
Gaza Strip's power plant 370 (R)
(photo credit: Ibraheem Abu Mustafa / Reuters)
We Israelis love to grumble but on occasion, our gripes aren’t irrational. The spate of price hikes that recently hit us from all directions may be unavoidable due to factors outside anyone’s direct control but they hurt nonetheless. Electricity charges offer a cogent case in point.
We are paying inordinately more than we did a year ago, chiefly because natural gas from Egypt is no longer available to fire up our power stations. However, some consumers of the much more expensive electricity currently generated by the Israel Electric Corporation figure they deserve it for free.
Thus the Palestinian Authority has racked up a steadily mounting debt that already exceeds NIS 700 million.
Moreover, there’s no indication of any alarm about it in Ramallah. It appears that the authorities there are quite content to have average Israelis pick up the PA’s tab.
Serial non-fulfillment of financial obligations by Ramallah – in many spheres, not only vis-à-vis the IEC – is no secret, although our own powers-that-be prefer to steer clear of unpleasantness, even if it means ignoring a festering sore.
Yet as the arrears accumulate, the problem becomes substantially harder to disregard. This basically is what Energy and Water Minister Uzi Landau (Yisrael Beytenu) wrote to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu earlier this week, with copies to the finance and foreign ministers.
Landau stressed in his message that the IEC should not have to sustain the losses caused by the PA’s nonpayment.
Neither, he added, is it conscionable “to increase the charges levied on ordinary Israelis because of accrued debts arising from consumption in areas under the PA jurisdiction.”
Landau went on to warn that unless urgent steps are taken to insure immediate compensation to the IEC, as well as regular and reliable future payments, he will “instruct the IEC to resort to necessary means to collect overdue fees with all that this implies.”
The bottom line is unambiguous: The government cannot keep playing nice to avoid damaging the national image at the expense of the economy.
Reimbursing the IEC to the tune of NIS 700m. would cover a quarter of its overall shortfall and would decrease the outlays from the public coffers needed to keep it on an even keel. This per force would mean a lesser burden on taxpayers along with a 3-percent cut in our household electricity fees.
The PA’s uncontrolled fiscal delinquency cannot be subsidized by Israeli citizens, even if the upshot will be bad press and the usual distortions that Israel faces abroad.
Various punitive paths are available to the IEC. It can place a lien on the East Jerusalem Electric Company, which gets its electricity from the IEC and whose installations are inside Israel.
The IEC can cut the power to various PA districts intermittently.
It cannot be that Israeli consumers need suffer power shortages themselves, while underwriting the PA’s residents who enjoy wholesale immunity.
Another possibility is to deduct compensation from PA moneys in Israel. A final alternative is to cause deliberate brownouts throughout Judea, Samaria and Gaza. This would not leave these areas entirely without electricity but would significantly reduce the power available there.
As the supplier, Israel clearly possesses a range of options to make sure that its resources and population are not cynically exploited, especially by inimical forces who lose no opportunity to ingrain enmity to the Jewish state.
To then expect that state to keep footing PA bills is akin to accepting extortion. The punishment with which Israel is threatened is another campaign of vilification if it dares refuse to bankroll Ramallah.
But the PA needs to be taught that it cannot be the international community’s whining child who expects everything but isn’t duty bound to behave in a minimally honorable fashion.
Israel concomitantly needs to show the PA that it will not be cowed by threats of what boils down to blackmail, that Israel will not suffer losses and inflict pain on its own citizens just to avoid yet another demonization drive overseas.
If we appear afraid of slander, then the weapon of slander may become an ever-more potent weapon against us.