The Palestinian Authority said on Thursday that it would no longer pay Gaza’s electricity bill. In a letter to the IDF Commander of Forces in Yehudah and Shomron, Yoav Mordechai, the PA, said that payments would be halted immediately.
Israel supplies Gaza with at least 30 percent of its electricity, a total of 125 megawatts of power, with payment deducted from customs payments collected by Israel on behalf of the PA for goods shipped through Israeli ports. The cost for the Israeli portion of electricity to Gaza is between NIS 25 and 50 million. As it is, most Gaza homes and businesses get only 12 hours of power a day, and the absence of electricity from Israel will lead to further power cuts. However, Israel has not yet announced that it will cut off power to Gaza, and media reports speculated that the government would appeal to foreign governments and aid organizations for funds to pay the Israel Electric Company to continue producing the electricity.
Another alternative would be the operation of the Gaza power plant. That plant, however, can supply a maximum of 120 megawatts of power. Full 24/7 electricity service for Gaza would require 400 megawatts of power. But the plant has only run at half capacity for years, as the PA has refused to pay for more fuel, and Hamas refuses to buy any.
The PA’s announcement on Thursday is seen as a further exacerbation of tensions between Hamas and Fatah. On Wednesday, the PA said it would slash its budget for Gaza by 30 percent, unless Hamas gives up its control of the Strip and hands it back to the PA. The threat was published in the PA Al-Hayat daily. In response, a Hamas official told the newspaper that while it was interested in “national cooperation” with the PA, “we will not be intimidated by the demands of the Authority.”
Hamas has been in control of Gaza for over a decade, essentially banning the Fatah-controlled PA government headed by Mahmoud Abbas to Ramallah and several other cities in Yehudah and Shomron. Abbas and Fatah have for years been seeking to return to Gaza, either replacing Hamas or in partnership with it, but all efforts so far have failed. Meanwhile, Ramallah has been paying the lion’s share of Gaza’s bills, and recent reports in the Arab media say that Abbas has had enough, and that he plans to use the power of the purse to change matters.