Yerushalayim (Andrew Friedman/TPS) – Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said Wednesday that it would be “absurd” for Israel to spend taxpayer money to pay for Hamas’ electricity, and added that the Islamist group’s ample funding from radical groups around the world should make it possible to pay for Gaza’s electricity bill.
“Hamas collects hundreds of millions of shekels in taxes from the residents of Gaza. In addition, they receive hundreds of millions of shekels from Iran and other extremist elements [around the world]. The group has decided not to divert one shekel from its tunnels or from manufacturing rockets to provide electricity and water for the welfare of Gaza residents,” Liberman said.
Liberman’s comments came on the heels of Sunday’s cabinet decision to cut the electricity supply to Gaza by about 40 percent because of unpaid bills, and following a report Wednesday in the Haaretz newspaper that Israel, Egypt and the European Union have held talks in recent days to head off a humanitarian crisis in the Strip.
They also followed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu comments Tuesday that the lack of power in Gaza had nothing to do with Israel and was an internal dispute between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority.
“The issue of electricity in Gaza is subject to a disagreement between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. Hamas is demanding that the PA pay for the electricity and the PA is refusing to do so. This is an internal Palestinian argument,” Netanyahu said.
Israel currently supplies Gaza with approximately 120 megawatts of electricity per day, amounting to less than one-third of the 400-500 megawatts that would be required to power the Strip round the clock during the summer season. In practical terms, the limited power supply means that most Gazans have four hours of electricity a day, followed by 12 hours without.
The dispute stems from a power struggle between Hamas and Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction over control of Gaza. Hamas won the 2006 election to the Palestinian Legislative Council and seized power in a violent takeover several months later when Fatah officials in the Strip refused to cede power. Now, Fatah is trying to pressure Hamas by demanding payment, but the Islamist group has refused.
Sources in Gaza told Tazpit Press Service (TPS) that the lack of electricity affects all areas of life not only in Gaza, but in Israel as well.
“Obviously, it makes it difficult for hospitals, health clinics and factories to operate, said Dr. Mkhaimar Abusada, a professor of political science at Al-Azhar University. “But the damage isn’t limited to us. One major casualty is the environment, and particularly the sea off the Gaza coast. The lack of electricity means we cannot treat sewage, so raw sewage is being pumped right into the water. That’s eventually going to affect Israel – it’s going to eventually get to Zikim and other beaches in southern Israel, maybe as far as Ashkelon,” Abusada said.
Abusada said he “understands” Israel’s concerns about providing electricity to Gaza – the likelihood the power will go to light up tunnels, mosques and other Hamas infrastructure rather than to the people of Gaza. He said he believes there must be a way to hold Hamas accountable for the electricity, and that Israel could easily solve the issue permanently by providing Gaza with natural gas to power the local power plant.
“But Israel wants guarantees that no one is going to sabotage the pipeline and to know that there is a credible party on the other side that will pay for the gas. Israel doesn’t want to put all that money into a gas pipeline and then to be told in 2 years time, ‘see you later, we’re getting gas from someone else,’ or not at all,” Abusada said.