Is­rael min­is­ter vis­its West Bank for elec­tric­ity deal

Kuwait Times - - FRONT PAGE -

En­ergy Min­is­ter Yu­val Steinitz made a rare ap­pear­ance by a high-rank­ing Is­raeli of­fi­cial in the oc­cu­pied West Bank yes­ter­day to sign an agree­ment on elec­tric­ity with the Pales­tinian Author­ity. Steinitz at­tended the cer­e­mony in Jalamah near the north­ern West Bank city of Jenin along­side Pales­tinian prime min­is­ter Rami Ham­dal­lah. They an­nounced a boost in elec­tric­ity sup­ply in the area that comes with a pay­ment guar­an­tee from the Pales­tini­ans and un­veiled a new sub­sta­tion.

The cer­e­mony was held with a top ad­viser to US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, Ja­son Green­blatt, set to hold an­other round of meet­ings in Is­rael and the Pales­tinian ter­ri­to­ries in the com­ing days. Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion has urged Is­rael to take mea­sures to im­prove the Pales­tinian econ­omy as he seeks ways to restart peace talks. “Of course we hope to achieve peace and se­cu­rity; it is im­por­tant for all na­tions - but mean­while it is im­por­tant also to im­prove the in­fra­struc­ture,” Steinitz said.

Ham­dal­lah said “we do not want to de­pend on Is­rael for­ever”. “We are about to build a power plant in Jenin that will gen­er­ate 450 me­gawatts in the Jenin area. I hope this power plant will start op­er­at­ing in 2020.” But the cer­e­mony came in stark con­trast to a se­vere elec­tric­ity short­age in the Gaza Strip, the other Pales­tinian ter­ri­tory run by Is­lamist move­ment Ha­mas.

Pales­tinian pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ab­bas, whose Fatah party is based in the West Bank, has sought to pres­sure his ri­vals from Ha­mas in re­cent months no­tably by with­hold­ing pay­ments for elec­tric­ity. Is­rael re­cently re­duced its sup­ply of elec­tric­ity to the Gaza Strip af­ter Ab­bas slashed the pay­ments. The cut left the im­pov­er­ished ter­ri­tory of more than two mil­lion peo­ple with as lit­tle as two hours of mains elec­tric­ity a day. As an in­terim mea­sure, Egypt stepped in to de­liver fuel to Gaza’s sole power plant, but Ha­mas at the week­end ac­cused Ab­bas’s Pales­tinian Author­ity of block­ing fuel pay­ments to Egypt.

Ham­dal­lah yes­ter­day said “in 10 years, we have spent more than $15 bil­lion from the Pales­tinian state’s trea­sury on Gaza while Ha­mas col­lects the rev­enues and spends it on it­self and not on the peo­ple”. Is­raeli Ma­jor Gen­eral Yoav Mordechai, head of the de­fense min­istry unit that co­or­di­nates civil­ian af­fairs in the Pales­tinian ter­ri­to­ries, said Gazan lead­ers had elec­tric­ity “at home, like a night­club, but why

don’t they put the peo­ple (be­fore them­selves)?” Those who can af­ford it have gen­er­a­tors to power their homes and busi­nesses in the Gaza Strip.

Is­rael co­or­di­nates with the Pales­tinian Author­ity, but not Ha­mas, which it con­sid­ers a ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion and has fought three wars since 2008 with Pales­tinian mil­i­tants in Gaza. The Gaza Strip has been un­der an Is­raeli block­ade for a decade, badly dam­ag­ing the en­clave’s econ­omy, and its cross­ing with Egypt has also re­mained largely closed in re­cent years. UN of­fi­cials have called for the block­ade to be lifted, cit­ing de­te­ri­o­rat­ing hu­man­i­tar­ian con­di­tions, but Is­rael says it is nec­es­sary to pre­vent Ha­mas from im­port­ing weapons or ma­te­ri­als that could be used to make them.

Yes­ter­day’s agree­ment will lead to an in­crease in elec­tric­ity sup­ply to the West Bank’s Jenin area by 60 me­gawatts, of­fi­cials said. The West Bank re­lies al­most com­pletely on Is­rael for its elec­tric­ity sup­ply and pay­ment dis­putes have led to black­outs in the past. Such vis­its by an Is­raeli min­is­ter are ex­tremely rare. In May, Is­raeli Fi­nance Min­is­ter Moshe Kahlon met Ham­dal­lah in Ra­mal­lah. Be­fore that, no Is­raeli mem­ber of the in­ter­nal se­cu­rity cab­i­net had met a Pales­tinian of­fi­cial in a West Bank city since 2000, an Is­raeli of­fi­cial said. — AFP

— AFP

JALAMAH: Pales­tinian Prime Min­is­ter Rami Ham­dal­lah (sec­ond right) and Is­raeli En­ergy Min­is­ter Yu­val Steinitz (right) cut a rib­bon as they at­tend a cer­e­mony near the north­ern West Bank city of Jenin yes­ter­day.

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