Occupied West Bank dreads Israel power cut threat over debts

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The old city quarter of occupied Jerusalem. Photo – Picturesoftheplanet.com

The East Jerusalem power company that supplies electricity to parts of the Occupied West Bank warned on Tuesday its Israeli partner is threatening to cut supply over unpaid debts.

“The Israeli national electricity company informed us that it will begin measures including cutting the supply of electricity to any area at any time,” Ali Hamuda, deputy director-general of the Jerusalem District Electricity Company (JDECO), said.

JDECO purchases power from Israel and supplies to Palestinian homes in Occupied East Jerusalem, as well as the West Bank cities of Jericho, Bethlehem and Ramallah.

“There were threats over a week ago, but yesterday they informed us of their intention to take measures, including cutting power supply and seizing the company’s funds and its headquarters in Jerusalem,” Hamuda said.

He added that Israel Electric Corporation was seeking payment of debts totaling 421 million shekels ($104 million) of which a third is money owed to JDECO by the Palestinian Authority.

The largest portion of the debt, some 201 million shekels ($49.69m), is the result of unpaid bills from homes of Palestinians living in refugee camps, as well as residents of Area C in the West Bank, which is under full Israeli administrative and military control.

Palestinian government spokesman Ghassan Khatib acknowledged the issue and said it was “a real problem, with political, economic and cultural dimensions.”

“Three quarters of the debts owed by the Jerusalem District Electricity Company is the result of theft of electricity and unpaid bills in areas surrounding the city of Jerusalem and in refugee camps,” he explained while adding that the PA’s failure to pay its portion of the outstanding debt to JDECO was the result of a crippling deficit that the government says is due to undelivered aid pledges.

The Palestinian government has in recent months struggled to pay its employees on time and warned that it faces a major crisis as donor countries fail to make good on pledged funds.

Palestinian prime minister’s office announced last month his government will receive $100 million from Saudi Arabia to help alleviate Ramallah’s stinging budget crunch.

The PA heavily depends on foreign aid to pay its bills as it struggles from crippling Israeli financial and trade restrictions. Tel Aviv routinely blocks tax payments to authorities in Ramallah as a way to impose its orders on the nascent Palestinian government. It has received just under $750 million out of the promised $1.1 billion in donor funds in 2011.

Many global donors cite a global financial downturn, a freeze in Israeli-managed customs duty and an aid freeze by the United States following Palestinians’ abortive bid for statehood at the United Nations last fall as reasons for the current crunch in Palestinian exchequer.

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