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  June 17, 2017

Israel Reduces Power Supply to Gaza, Intensifying Humanitarian Crisis


Israel's Prime Minister Netanyahu says the power cut to Gaza is fault of Palestinian Authority, but actually is result of a power play between Abbas and Netanyahu in the run-up to peace negotiations explains TRN's Shir Hever
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biography

Shir Hever is an Economist working at The Real News Network. His economic research focuses on Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territory; international aid to the Palestinians and to Israel; the effects of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories on the Israeli economy; and the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaigns against Israel. His first book: Political Economy of Israel's Occupation: Repression Beyond Exploitation, was published by Pluto Press.


transcript

Israel Reduces Power Supply to Gaza, Intensifying Humanitarian CrisisAaron Maté: It's "The Real News." I'm Aaron Maté. Israel says it will cut the already meager power supply to the Gaza Strip. Gaza's 2 million residents already receive just 4 hours of electricity a day. But Israel's move would reduce that by an additional 45 minutes. The Israeli Security Cabinet approved it after the Palestinian Authority told Israel it will only cover 70 percent of the cost.

The Palestinian Authority also wants Hamas to make political concessions. Aid groups warn that cutting Gaza's power even more will intensify its dire humanitarian conditions, and possibly spark an armed response. Joining me to discuss is Real News correspondent, Shir Hever. Welcome, Shir.

Shir Hever: Thanks for having me, Aaron.

Aaron Maté: I want to start by playing for you the explanation given by Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. He said Israel has no stake in this, and it's merely acting based on the request of the Palestinian Authority over what he called an internal Palestinian dispute.

Netanyahu: The last day, I heard several false explanations on the issue of electricity in Gaza. It's important to understand that the matter of Gaza's electricity is a disputed issue between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. Hamas is demanding the Palestinian Authority finance the electricity, and the Palestinian Authority refuses to pay. This issue is an internal Palestinian argument. In any case, I wish to make clear Israel has no interest in any escalation.

Aaron Maté: So Shir, that's Netanyahu saying that this is an internal Palestenian matter and Israel has no interest in escalation. What's your take on that?

Shir Hever: Well, he's lying, of course. Israel is controlling Gaza in many different ways. In fact, the Israeli organization, Gisha, has just published a new website which they call "50 Shades of Control" where they explain the 50 ways by which the Israeli government still occupies and controls every aspect of Gaza. Netanyahu is trying to shift the blame on Abbas. And it's true that President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian government is now trying to put pressure on Hamas, or at least create the appearance that he's putting a lot of pressure on Hamas, in preparation for negotiation with Israel because President Trump is saying that there's going negotiations soon, and Palestinians are concerned that they're going to be asked to make very painful concessions.

And I think also the Israelis are concerned about these concessions. So suddenly, Netanyahu is pretending as if he's obliging the request of the Palestinian Authority by cutting the power. But there is a responsibility of the Israeli government to the wellbeing of Palestinians in Gaza. And this responsibility remains, and everybody in the area, whether in Israel or in the Palestinian Territory, understands completely that this is an Israeli decision to cut power and to intensify the siege. And in fact, the Israeli military as well as the Israeli intelligence organizations, are actually calling on the government not to do this because it strongly increases the chance for another confrontation.

Aaron Maté: Explain a bit further what would motivate Abbas to basically use Gaza as a bargaining chip here ahead of negotiations with Israel.

Shir Hever: Abbas is running out of bargaining chips, and in a way this is the last moments for Palestinians to try to get an independent state in a way because the Israeli government is now moving in the direction of annexing the West Bank or large parts of the West Bank. And Netanyahu's just said to the United Nations and to the United States that actually, he has a new plan by which the Israeli illegal colonies in the West Bank would remain under Israeli sovereign control even if a Palestinian State would be erected. And those colonies would, of course, need to have their own roads and infrastructure, also under Israeli control. Netanyahu added that military control over the entire West Bank will remain with Israel and not with the Palestinians.

That means that Palestinian statehood is in name only. So Abbas is pretty much cornered right now. He showered President Trump with praise, trying to appeal to Trump's sense of worth as a great negotiator, in an attempt to improve his negotiating position. But when it comes to actually having cards to negotiate with, he doesn't have many. And putting pressure on Hamas in Gaza is one of the only things he can do.

And if Israel will, indeed, be dragged into another confrontation with Gaza - or, more likely, Israel will initiate another invasion of Gaza this summer, killing a lot of people and causing a lot of damage - then this will affect Israel's standing in the world and maybe give a little bit more of international support to the Palestinians, but at a terrible cost.

Aaron Maté: So in order to show the U.S. and Israel that he means business, Abbas is willing to basically deepen Gaza's suffering?

Shir Hever: I believe so, unfortunately. And the Hamas party is now being isolated also because of the siege, the diplomatic siege and the economic siege, of Qatar. Qatar is one of Hamas's supporters and losing support from Qatar puts Hamas in a very precarious situation. I think that makes it easier for Mahmoud Abbas to push forward.

And in fact, he also made statements - not he himself, but senior members of his party recently made statements - that they completely support the six countries which are now implementing this siege against Qatar. And they say that Qatar has no place is Middle East politics, and Hamas has no place in Middle East politics.

Aaron Maté: I just want to make one distinction, and correct me if I'm wrong, But you said that this is Palestinians' last chance to get an independent state. But is this Palestinians' last chance, or is this basically Abbas' last chance? Because, of course, Palestinians are entitled, most of the world thinks, to an independent state. Israel has no legal claim to any of the occupied territories. So is it more that Abbas is simply trying to scramble for what he can get until his time in office is over?

Shir Hever: First of all, I completely agree with you that the Palestinians have a right to an independent state, and the right is not going to die. The right is not going anywhere. But the question is, what is the preferred strategy of the Palestinians in order to achieve their freedom and their independence? And Abbas represents represents a powerful camp within the Palestinian political sphere that calls for the two state solution, an independent Palestinian state.

But members of his own party are already doubting that, his strategy, very seriously. And I think Abbas, like you you said, this is for him a kind of last chance. If he fails in this round of negotiations and if the Palestinian Authority is not successful in achieving any kind of gains for the people, then the Palestinian Authority itself and senior members of the Fatah party and the PLO, and not only Hamas, but also these other ... these more ... parties that are strongly supporting the two state solution are actually saying quite openly, "We're ready to change our policy and to demand equal civil rights under one joint government." And if that happens, then it doesn't mean, of course, that the Palestinians will stop struggling for their freedom. But it means that they will struggle for their freedom within a different framework.

Aaron Maté: So Shir, let's got to another area where the Israeli government is putting pressure on Palestinian society. The Israeli government has approved a bill that will go before the Israeli parliament that would essentially stop the Palestinian Authority from paying the families of Palestinians who have been killed by Israeli Forces. And Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, was recently testifying before Congress on this. And this is what he said.

Tillerson: When President Abbas made his visit with his delegation to Washington, the President raised it. But then, I had a bilateral, much more detailed, bilateral with him later that day and I told him, "You absolutely must stop making payments to family members of, quote, martyrs." I said, "It's one thing to help orphans and children, but when you designate the payment for that act, that has to stop."

They have changed their policy; at least I have been informed they've changed that policy. And their intent is to cease the payments to the family members of those who've committed murder or violence against others. So it is ... we've been very clear with them that this is simply not acceptable to us. It is certainly not acceptable to the American people.

Aaron Maté: So Shir, talk about what's going on here because the Palestinian Authority says that that it will continue payments to at least the families of prisoners; hasn't said much yet about the issue of payments to so-called martyrs.

Shir Hever: The bill has not passed Parliament yet. The Israeli parliament, the Knesset, did not vote on this yet, but the government approved it for a vote, so this is the first stage. And if the government supports it, then the coalition has to support it. So it has a very good chance of proceeding.

But one wonders why do they even need a bill, because this is actually a system that Israel already controls the money. We're talking about tax money which is levied from Palestinians - things like value added tax and income tax which is taken from Palestinian workers - but it is collected by the Israeli government. And the Israeli government is obligated to transfer that money to the Palestinian bank account every month, and they don't always do that. And in deciding to collect whatever the debts or commissions or fees that they see fit every month, and they do that actually.

So, for example, if we talk about electricity - we just discussed the crisis of electricity in Gaza - then it's already the case that when the Israeli electricity company provides electricity to Palestinians, the Israeli government can just collect the fees directly from those tax monies without giving the Palestinians any chance to negotiate how much should be charged and whether that may be too much this month, and so on.

So when we're talking about now these payments to families of so-called martyrs, meaning that a Palestinians who died in the course of political resistance to the Israeli occupation - whether they were a terrorist of whether they were just demonstrators - in Palestine, these are known as martyrs, and that's exactly the problem.

The Israeli government simply considers any kind of payment to the bereaved families a support of terrorism. But in reality, there are tens of thousands of families of victims of Israeli violence who are dependent on that money to survive, to sustain themselves. And the Palestinian government is supporting these families without making a kind of judgment of whether these people were killed in the course of committing a crime, or killed while innocently being bystanders to and victims of Israeli violence.

Now Secretary Tillerson is simply taking the Israeli approach 100 percent, saying any kind of ... when Israel is saying that somebody is a terrorist, then that certainly makes him a terrorist. And I think that's something that, of course, the Palestinian Authority cannot accept. So that money that Israel now wants to ... that the Israeli government wants to deduct from those tax payments to the Palestinian Authority will create a very serious crisis if this, indeed, passes in the Israeli parliament. It could lead to the collapse of the Palestinian government all together, or it could lead to a humanitarian catastrophe when tens of thousands of families will lose their monthly income.

Aaron Maté: So finally, Shir. Looking at these two developments of Israel putting pressure on Palestinians, cutting off power to Gaza, and also seeking to reduce the payments to Palestinian families that so many people rely on, what do you think is the goal here? Recalling that, in 2014 when Israel put pressure on Palestinian society by launching these raids in the West Bank and also carrying out strikes in the Gaza Strip, that led to the devastating summer conflict in Gaza that killed so many people, and also thwarted attempts at Palestinian unity.

Shir Hever: I think what connects these two stories ... On the one hand, stopping the electricity to Gaza, and on the other is stopping money to the families of victims of Israeli violence and prisoners in Israeli jails. The thing that connects these two stories is the issue of hypocrisy.

Because Netanyahu is saying, well, we're just not going to intervene in a Palestinian internal decision, whether they should spend their money on this group or the other when it comes to sending electricity to Gaza. He's pretending as if this is an internal Palestinian decision. But when it comes to the internal Palestinian decisions, whether they want to support the families of victims and prisoners, suddenly Netanyahu is definitely becoming involved in their internal decisions. And he's going to deduct from their budget the very exact amount that they were going to give to those families.

So why is the Israeli government using so much hypocrisy? They're using hypocrisy because they're trying to change the narrative to portray Palestinians as terrorists; to get Tillerson to repeat that statement and to get Tillerson to represent their position. And this kind of hypocrisy, when you accept it, then you've actually already accepted the fact that Israel is generous to its Palestinians and the Palestinians are all criminals. And that's the goal.

But what I think the Israeli government does not want is another round of fighting, because this kind of fighting has very serious implications on the Israeli economy; of course, worse implications on the Palestinian economy. And in this invasion of Gaza of 2014 that you mentioned, which was preceded by an invasion of the West Bank as well, over 2,000 Palestinians were killed. But for the Israeli side, where 72 Israelis were killed and also very severe damage was inflicted on the Israeli tourism industry, this is something that the Israeli government does not want to repeat.

But back in 2014 the issue was Palestinians were just about to hold an election, something that the Israeli government was very concerned about. The election was supposed to enable a reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas; a united front of Palestinians calling for their freedom against Israel. The Israeli government could just not cope with that. They could not afford to have that happen, so they invaded and they caused all this destruction.

Now, I think, this is again the concern. What happens if the Palestinians speak with a clear voice and demand basic rights that, according to international law and this attempt to create a crisis and prevent it, is exactly what the Israeli government is doing even it would mean another round of violence and many people killed.

Aaron Maté: Real News correspondent, Shir Hever. Shir, thanks for joining us.

Shir Hever: Thank you very much.

Aaron Maté: And thank you for joining us on The Real News.



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