UN says Gaza electricity crisis is ‘internal Palestinian dispute’ on 10th year of Israeli blockade

After Israel decided to drastically cut electricity supplies to the Gaza Strip at the request at the Palestinian Authority (PA), UN Humanitarian Coordinator in the occupied Palestinian territory Robert Piper characterized the ever-worsening crisis in Gaza as “an internal Palestinian dispute” — as Israel’s military blockade on the coastal enclave marked its 10th anniversary this week.

In a statement Wednesday, Piper warned that the electricity reduction would have “disastrous consequences,” and said that if implemented, the “reduction will bring most households and service-providers down to two hours or so of power per day.”

“Hospitals, water supply, wastewater treatment and sanitation services have already been dramatically curtailed since mid-April,” he said, referring to when Gaza’s sole power plant ceased to function as Gaza’s electricity officials said they could not afford a PA-imposed tax on diesel fuel that had doubled the price of operating the plant.

“A further increase in the length of blackouts is likely to lead to a total collapse of basic services, including critical functions in the health, water, and sanitation sectors,” Piper said.

The UN official went on to call on the PA, Hamas, and Israel to equally take the “necessary measures to avoid further suffering,” saying that, “The people in Gaza should not be held hostage to this longstanding internal Palestinian dispute” — reiterating an argument offered by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who also said the crisis was “internal Palestinian issue.”

“Hamas wants the PA to pay for (electricity) and the PA refuses,” Netanyahu said in a statement Tuesday.

Both Israel and the PA have maintained that Hamas is to blame for allegedly collecting millions of shekels in taxes from Gazans every month without transferring the money to the Ramallah-based government.

However, rights groups have contested the narrative that the crisis is a political and financial feud between the Fatah-dominated PA and the de facto Hamas-led government in Gaza.

Israeli NGO B’Tselem echoed previous arguments that the Israeli government was not merely a neutral service provider, but was chiefly accountable for the fate of Palestinians in Gaza, who as of this week have been under Israeli military blockade for a decade.

“This is not some sort of natural disaster. Had that been the case, Israel would have likely sent in a humanitarian aid mission,” B’Tselem said in a statement released Tuesday evening.

“Instead, the reality in Gaza is the result of Israel’s handiwork, achieved by its decade-long implementation of a brutal policy. Israel can, and must, change this reality.”

B’Tselem denounced the Israeli blockade for “consigning its residents to living in abject poverty under practically inhuman conditions unparalleled in the modern world.”

“Despite this intolerable reality, the Israeli cabinet has decided to accept the Palestinian Authority’s cruel plan to further reduce the power supply to Gaza. Should the Israeli decision be implemented, the situation in Gaza will deteriorate even further, making the area virtually unlivable.”

Hamas has governed the Gaza Strip since winning the majority of votes in a 2006 election in the besieged coastal enclave, which erupted into a violent conflict between the movement and their rivals Fatah as they both attempted to consolidate control over the small Palestinian territory.

Following Hamas’ election victory and subsequent takeover of Gaza, Israel imposed a crippling blockade on the territory in June 2007, which has been upheld by the Egyptian government.

As the blockade enters its second decade, and the population of Gaza exceeds two million Palestinians according to UN estimates, the severe electricity shortages have exacerbated the already dire living conditions in the small Palestinian territory.

War has also taken its toll, and during Israel’s 50-day offensive on Gaza in 2014, the power plant was targeted, completely knocking it out of commission.

The UN has previously warned that the Gaza Strip would become uninhabitable for residents by 2020, pointing to the devastation of war and nearly a decade of Israel’s blockade.