Electricity technicians at work
Electricity technicians at workIsrael news photo: Flash 90

The Israel Electric Corporation on Wednesday limited the electricity flow to Shechem and Jenin, after doing so earlier in the week to several other Palestinian Authority-controlled areas. The IEC did not say how long the power cut would last, but on Tuesday, the company restored the full flow of electricity after about an hour.

At issue is an electricity bill of some NIS 2 billion (about $500 million) that the PA has refused to pay. Several weeks ago, the IEC announced that it would begin a policy of sanctioning the PA over the debt, by cutting power to PA areas. Sources in the IEC said that they were resorting to the policy out of desperation, as an attempt to get the PA – and the Israeli government – to pay attention to the Authority's ignoring of its bill. The company said that it would cut electricity flows for an hour in the morning and at night.

It should be noted that the cuts did not entail a complete shutdown of electricity flow, but a reduction in the wattage, so that lights, refrigerators, and the like would still continue to function, while more sophisticated equipment, like televisions and computers, would not.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon has expressed opposition to the policy, but IEC officials said that they did not need any permission from him or any other government official to cut the PA's power.

“The IEC is making its decision based on business concerns,” the officials were quoted in the Israeli media as saying. “We have informed all the relevant authorities of our position and that we intend to continue with this policy until someone pays us.”

The PA's power is supplied by the Jerusalem District Electricity Company, which is the IEC's customer, and that organization has been having trouble collecting money from its customers. Speaking Tuesday, company director Hisham al-Umari slammed the IEC for the power cuts, calling it “collective punishment,” but also calling on PA customers to pay their electricity bills “in order to ensure that we can continue to supply our customers with power.”

Speaking Monday, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said that the U.S. was “very concerned” about the cuts. “We’re concerned about the impact on the ground of any cuts to basic services, including electricity,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters. “We remain very concerned about the continued viability of the Palestinian Authority if they do not receive funds soon, either in terms of the resumption of monthly Israeli transfers of Palestinian tax revenues or additional donor assistance,” she added, repeating statements she made last week.

The PA acquires 95% of its electricity in Judea and Samaria and 75% of its electricity in Gaza from Israel. The Israeli supply to the PA-assigned areas continued over the years despite the huge debt and despite the fact that Hamas continues to carry out terror attacks aimed at Israeli forces and civilians alike.