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PA to reportedly become sole electricity distributor in West Bank after debt deal with Israel

Sept. 13, 2016 8:49 P.M. (Updated: Sept. 14, 2016 4:36 P.M.)
Palestinian electricity company workers drag a power line many of which were destroyed following an earlier Israeli air strike in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, on Aug. 6, 2014. (AFP/Said Khatib, File)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- The Palestinian Authority (PA) signed an agreement with Israel on Tuesday reportedly resolving longstanding debt issues between the PA and the Israel Electric Corporation (IEC), while the PA was positioned as the sole authority over electricity distribution across the occupied West Bank, according to Israeli and Palestinian officials.

The agreement was signed after discussions between Palestinian Civil Affairs Minister Hussein al-Sheikh, Israeli Minister of Finance Moshe Kahlon, and head of the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) Yoav Mordechai.

Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported on Monday amid discussions between the parties that the PA agreed to repay some 500 million shekels ($132,034,125) upfront to the IEC, which provides around 88 percent of total electricity consumption in the occupied Palestinian territory.

The initial payment was expected immediately, while another billion shekels ($264,068,250) was expected to be paid by the PA in installments spanning an extended period of time, and another 500 million shekels would be permanently erased from the PA’s debt, according to Haaretz.

A spokesperson for Mordechai said in a statement that the agreement was signed after “complicated” and “prolonged talks.”

“We have reached a remarkable decision that will allow the Israel Electricity Company to receive unpaid bills accumulated over more than a decade,” the spokesperson said in the statement.

The agreement also shifts full responsibility for the collection of electricity bills onto the PA, who in the past had rejected responsibility for the debt, claiming it fell under the jurisdiction of local electricity distribution companies.

Under the new agreement, the PA will provide electricity to local Palestinian electricity companies after purchasing it from Israel, becoming the sole authority for electricity distribution in the occupied West Bank.

Al-Sheikh stated after the signing of the agreement that he hoped the negotiations would be one of many peace agreements between the Palestinians and Israelis.

The PA’s debt to IEC, now amounting to some two billion shekels ($530 million), has been a source of tension between the two parties for years, as the IEC has repeatedly cut off electricity to the West Bank, most recently in April, when it targeted the Hebron, Bethlehem and Jericho districts in a move which was denounced as constituting collective punishment.

Following a Palestinian appeal, the Israeli Supreme Court in April ordered that IEC suspend its policy.

Israeli authorities have withheld tax revenues collected on behalf of the PA in the past over unpaid bills owed to Israeli companies, threatening last year to deduct over 1 billion shekels from taxes withheld from the PA in order to cover missed electricity bills.
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