The Palestinian Authority’s bid to curtail the amount of electricity flowing into the Gaza Strip is more than political infighting between Hamas, which rules the coastal enclave, and rival Fatah, which governs much of the West Bank.
It has thrust Israel, Gaza’s de facto overseer, into the fray. The prime minister’s office must step up to the extent it can to limit Gaza’s civilian suffering without diminishing Israel’s protective shield.
The Jewish state is a target of international outrage in the wake of a civilian emergency in Gaza — a tinderbox run by terror-monger Hamas, but also deprived of adequate power, water and sewage treatment thanks to the P.A.
The P.A. effected a summer cutback in electricity to poverty-ravaged Gaza in apparent hopes of re-seizing leadership of the almost 2 million Palestinians who live there. West Bank-based Fatah is the P.A.’s lead political faction.
Israel supplies a third of the electricity needs in Gaza; the P.A. has paid the bill through taxes collected by its Ramallah-based government. Gaza’s only power plant also generates electricity. Egypt is a smaller source of power, but that could change to something more; invigorated ties with Cairo stand to infuse Hamas with improved weapons access.
According to a new United Nations report, Gaza should receive electricity 8-12 hours a day, but is only drawing 4-6 hours a day. A July 2 vote by Israel’s security cabinet authorized dropping that to 2-3 hours a day — a vote that came at the behest of P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas.
Meanwhile, fresh water flows into Gaza only every 3-5 days as desalination plants operate at 15 percent of capacity, limiting potable water. Upwards of 29 million gallons of untreated sewage in Gaza are pumped daily into the Mediterranean Sea.
Medical care has felt the brunt of this full-bore Gaza crisis. The net effect of hospital wings closing and lifesaving equipment becoming stressed during blackouts: new breeding grounds for bacteria and disease.
A bloody coup in 2007 enabled Hamas to wrest control of Gaza from Fatah. It gave Hamas a launch pad to fire rockets at the Negev and to wage war against the ancestral Jewish homeland. Hamas’ charter calls for Israel’s destruction, spurring Israel to place land, air and sea blockades on Gaza. Israel continues to permit passage of humanitarian goods into Gaza as well as permit transfer of some patients to Israeli hospitals.
Gaza’s power needs worsened when the sole power plant ran out of diesel fuel. When Hamas didn’t come calling for such fuel in protest to the P.A. lifting a tax exemption for the luxury resource, the P.A. said it would slash payments to Israel for Gaza’s electricity by another 40 percent. That put Israel in the untenable position of having to start decreasing the Gaza power supply, according to a JTA news report.
The Palestinian struggle over electrical current cleared the way for Egypt, at least in the short term, to make up some of the besieged territory’s power shortfall. It’s no secret Hamas figures renewed ties with Egypt could reopen the Rafah border crossing, in turn easing the humanitarian emergency as well as bringing materials that, by stealth, could re-arm and re-embolden the Iranian and Syrian proxy that rules from Gaza City.
The Israeli government cannot trust Hamas or its indoctrinated subjects. But accentuating the hurt put on ordinary Gazans because the P.A. is seeking to reverse its drubbing by Hamas seems extreme. Some Gazans, those desperately impoverished, for example, surely see Hamas for what it is.
Electricity can’t just be given away indefinitely, but Jerusalem knows the long-term consequences of relentless Gazan despair street side. It would behoove Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to work with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and other U.N. agencies to find funding to restore Gaza’s level of power, which never has been better than meager.
Following the announcement of a government-planned pipeline that would require them to treat sewage flowing into their border communities from waterways in northern Gaza, Israeli municipal and regional leaders objected. As Alon Schuster, head of the Shaar Hanegev Regional Council, put it to JTA: “Israel’s interest is to allocate electricity to Gaza for civilian purposes. I believe our policy should be to give the Palestinians what they need and not to torture them in any case.”
We’re not talking about capitulating to Hamas, a terrorist organization to its core that has ruined the lives of generations by indoctrinating and condemning them to a love of hatred and violence. The situation is horrendous.
But Israel cannot avoid the plight of Gazans who have become expendable pawns in the fissure between Hamas and Fatah. The Jewish world can’t pretend those people don’t exist, even as it intensifies girding against Hamas attacks not only from rockets, but also, notably, from tunnels.
Undeniably, Hamas would have more funds at its disposal to pay for energy if it hadn’t diverted so much tax money away from infrastructure development and toward tunnel construction.
It would benefit Israel to excise itself from the intensifying clash between the Palestinian people’s two political powers, Hamas and Fatah, without abandoning what little it can do to prevent civilians from falling deeper into the abyss. Talk about walking a moral tightrope.
It’s difficult to imagine a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, let alone Palestinian unity within, arising any time soon given the unsettled way of life in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Regional coexistence and peace sure seem fantastical.