Gaza

Gaza residents to pay Israel for electricity

Gaza's weary residents expected to pay a collective fee of $2.8m a month to restore the power supply.

Palestinian refugees warm up in front of a fire outside their makeshift house during a power outage in Gaza [EPA]

The Palestinian Authority (PA) has requested that Gaza's residents begin regularly paying their electricity company for the first time to resume the power supply to the Strip. 

Gaza's residents would be required to pay a collective monthly fee of 10 million shekels ($2.8m) to restore the amount of electricity the PA asked Israel to cut off from the Strip in June, a source from the PA, who asked to remain anonymous, told Al Jazeera. 

"This is the first time that the PA has made such a request, but the government believes that the [Gaza-based] electricity company must pay the amount that it consumes from the electricity sector," he said. 

"The PA wants to support power supply in the Strip but within reason." 

Since 2006, the Palestinian Authority, which administers the occupied West Bank, has paid Israel to supply electricity to Gaza. 

In June 2017, the PA requested that Israel reduce Gaza's electricity supply by 40 percent. The move was seen as an attempt by President Mahmoud Abbas to weaken the rival Hamas government in Gaza. 

When the PA asked Israel to cut back electricity, residents of Gaza started receiving only up to four hours of electricity a day as opposed to an average of six to eight hours. 

In response, the United Nations warned that longer power cuts threaten a "total collapse" of basic services in Gaza. 

On Wednesday, the PA said it would allow Israel to resume supplying the 50 megawatts of electric power it had asked Israel to cut six months ago. 

Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah described the development as being within the context of a reconciliation agreement between the PA and Hamas signed in the Egyptian capital Cairo in October 2017. 

The request, said Hamdallah, was to "alleviate the suffering of the people of Gaza and to improve living conditions". 

But the PA source Al Jazeera spoke to said that one of Gaza's two operating power plant turbines would have to be shut down, as the cost would only cover the operation of one.

"In reality, the increase will be 25 megawatts, not 50," he explained. "They have to close down the turbine in order to cover the 10 million shekels." 

Because of high demand in winter, he said, the effect of restoring electricity will not make much of a difference to the lives of Gaza's residents. "The power may increase by an hour at most." 

'They cannot afford to live' 

Gaza's two million residents have suffered from ongoing power cuts for the past decade, owing to Israel's crippling land, air and sea blockade on the Strip, and because of the PA's sanctions. 

The Gaza Strip's sole power plant cannot operate at its maximum capacity as a result of the shortage of spare parts and industrial diesel because of Israel's airtight blockade, in place since 2007.

The electricity crisis has only made matters worse for Gaza's residents, who have been subjected to three major Israeli military assaults over the past 10 years that have damaged much of the territory's infrastructure. 

About 42 percent of Palestinians in Gaza suffer from poverty, youth unemployment stands at 58 percent, and some 80 percent rely on international aid, mainly food, according to the World Bank. 

Mohammad Abu Jayyab, head of an economic newspaper in Gaza, said he believes it is unrealistic to ask Gaza's residents to start paying for their electricity. 

"The return of supply is not about reconciliation or lifting the sanctions on Gaza's government. It is about a demand from the PA to the electricity company to cover the cost of supply," he told Al Jazeera. 

"I think what is happening to Gaza is unrealistic. The PA is dealing with Gaza as though it must cover its own financial responsibilities, but a large portion of the people in Gaza cannot afford to live - let alone pay for electricity," said Abu Jayyab. 

A spokesperson for Gaza's Electricity Distribution Company, Mohammad Thabet, told Al Jazeera the company once contributed to the cost of power supply, but with the worsening economic situation it has recently been unable to do so. 

Thabet described the PA's request for payment from Gaza's residents as a "natural demand". 

"Of course we have to pay for this electricity because it is a commodity. Those who use the electricity must pay for it," he said. 

"This money that the electricity company will collect will be exported to the Israeli side through the Palestinian ministry of finance." 

But Abu Jayyab said the PA's plan is unsustainable given Gaza's dire economic condition. 

"The PA will fall into the trap of the diminished economic situation in Gaza whereby the resident cannot pay," said Abu Jayyab. 

"The company will hit a wall and Gaza's political leaders will not accept this. I predict that the electricity issue will rise again within two months". 

Source: Al Jazeera News