Israel’s state-run electricity company is to reduce energy supplies to Palestinians in the occupied West Bank because of a debt of more than $450 million, an official said Thursday.
The move comes at a time of diplomatic tensions, weeks after Israel froze the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) tax revenues in retaliation for joining the International Criminal Court (ICC).
“Due to a mounting debt worth nearly 1.8 billion shekels ($459 million, 404 million euros), we have decided that as of today, electrical supply (to the West Bank) will be cut” for an hour each morning and another hour at night, an Israel Electric Corporation (IEC) official said.
The measure, which would “not cause general power cuts, will remain in place until the Palestinian Authority begins to settle its debts,” the official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
The Jerusalem District Electricity Company, a private Palestinian firm that distributes energy supplied by the IEC, acknowledged the PA had failed to make payments but condemned the Israeli move as collective punishment.
“We have repeatedly warned of the consequences of the PA not paying its dues,” JDECO director Hisham Omari said.
“But it is an unfair decision and a form of collective punishment” he said. “The IEC is the sole provider of electricity and we depend on it. We’re still under occupation.”
Neither official would comment on whether the move was a political decision.
But local media reported that enforcing it would require the approval of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and also have to go through Israeli security officials.
Israeli news website Ynet said the IEC had tried to carry out the move “several times in the past” but was prevented from doing so by the premier’s office.
Israel froze tax monies it transfers to the PA early January, after the Palestinians applied to join the ICC, through which they threaten to sue the Jewish state over alleged war crimes in the Palestinian territories.
Ministers have threatened additional punitive measures, but Israel has not explicitly carried any out.
JDECO is a private company which purchases electricity from Israel to supply to Israeli-annexed Arab east Jerusalem and Palestinian cities in the West Bank.
As well as supplying electricity via JDECO, the Israeli firm provides power to the PA, which caters to the rest of the West Bank and also supplies power to the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.
Both the PA and JDECO have run up debts after failing to collect the full amount they are owed by their own customers. The IEC is also suing JDECO for $150 million in unpaid bills.