Why does Israel forgive and forego debts — millions of dollars in debts — owed by the Palestinian Authority?
arlier this month, the Israeli government forgave a debt of NIS 2 billion, or $530 million, to the Palestinian Authority. The question is: why?
The enormous debt was the result of years of non-payment on electricity provided by Israel Electric Corporation. The Palestinian Authority had racked up the debt over ten years, during which the IEC had periodically shut off the electricity in Palestinian cities to press for payment. As part of the deal,Israel also agreed to transfer control of the electricity grid in Palestinian cities to the PA. But critics of the settlement are asking why the government would agree to such a financial windfall for a governing body that regularly incites against Israel, works to delegitimize the Jewish state in international bodies, and pays the wages of terrorists.
Eugene Kontorovich, a professor at Northwestern University School of Law, and an expert on international law, told Mishpacha there’s no doubt the PA is obligated to pay its debt under the Oslo accords.
“There is no such thing as free electricity — either the Israeli taxpayers pay, or the Palestinian customers,” he said, adding that it does not matter whether Judea and Samaria are considered occupied.
From a legal perspective, continued Kontorovich, this episode is “a microcosm of other agreements with the Palestinians when they don’t do what they agreed to do.”
“We also learn from this issue how a bigger potential agreement with the Palestinians, one that the international community is trying to force on Israel, would hold up.”
But it is precisely international pressure that might have forced Israel’s hand. The Israeli government may fear that the Palestinians and the international community would use the electricity shortage as a rallying point to claim a violation of human rights at the United Nations. Israel may also have wanted to improve the general economic climate in the territories to discourage further terror attacks.
Kontorovich sees the deal as a temporary stopgap that will set a precedent for the future. To put it succinctly: “The Israelis are being suckers, and the Palestinians are not.”
Kontorovich notes that the Palestinians receive billions of dollars in aid, especially from Europe. At the same time, the PA is notoriously corrupt and uses at least part of its budget to pay stipends to terrorists and their families.
David Ha’ivri, a longtime political activist in the Jewish community in the Shomron, told Mishpacha that this issue is “disgraceful and again acknowledges that the PA is not to be expected to live up to the most basic standard of accountability.”
“It is very discomfiting to learn that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu caved in to [Europe’s] pressure and relieved the Palestinians of their debt to the electric company, a decision that will come out of the pocket of Israeli taxpayers,” he said.As for transferring control of the power grid to the PA, Ha'ivri said Israel should not be giving the PA any more authority. Rather, it should be abolished altogether.
Ha'ivri predicts it’s only a matter of time before the debt again reaches astronomical heights and the cycle repeats itself. The question is: Will Israel act any differently next time?