As we have noted here on numerous previous occasions (most recently just last month), when reporting on the topic of Palestinian Authority tax transfers, the BBC has persistently failed to adequately inform its audiences of the related issue of the scale of the PA’s outstanding debts to Israeli companies and bodies.
The largest of those debts is to the Israel Electric Corporation but – despite having staff in both Jerusalem and Ramallah – the BBC has avoided reporting that story, as indeed it does many other Palestinian issues.
On May 5th the New York Times published an article titled “Palestinians’ Unpaid Electric Bills in the West Bank Thicken Tension With Israel” which includes information that has not been made available to those getting their news from the BBC.
“Collectively, the 22,000 residents of the Tulkarm camp in the northern West Bank have amassed $15.2 million in unpaid electric bills over at least 10 years, part of a yawning Palestinian power debt of $430 million that is at the core of the latest breakdown in relations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. […]
Ms. Zeidan and her neighbors face neither fines nor service cutoffs, creating the widespread impression that there are no consequences for ignoring the bills. Israel briefly cut power to two Palestinian districts in February, but a large-scale blackout in Palestinian communities would most likely set off a diplomatic crisis. […]
Residents of the camp are too poor to pay, Mr. Sallameh said, and they see electricity as the responsibility of the Palestinian Authority, which the refugees widely despise. “Let those dirt bags pay for us” is a common refrain, he said. […]
Elsewhere in the West Bank, the Israel Electric Corporation sells power to Palestinian municipalities and distribution companies, but, Mr. Milhem said, Israel holds the Palestinian Authority broadly responsible for payment. The World Bank found that some municipalities collected customers’ payments but used them to offset general expenses rather than passing them on to the Israelis.”
The article also notes the internal Palestinian frictions which exacerbate the problem of the PA’s massive debt.
“The World Bank estimated in November that Palestinians had failed to pay for 58 percent of the power they used in 2013, up from 37 percent in 2010.
About 40 percent of the power debt is from Gaza, where Hamas, the militant Islamist Palestinian political faction, has ruled since 2007. The World Bank says that Hamas collects payments from Gaza’s 1.8 million residents but refuses to hand the money over to the Palestinian Authority because of its rivalry with Mr. Abbas and his Fatah party.”
The issue clearly has broader implications too.
““The current system doesn’t make sense, especially if we want to build a functioning Palestinian state,” said Steen Lau Jorgensen of the World Bank, which has extensively studied the issue of electricity in the region.”
Whilst the BBC does cover the topic of PA tax revenues whenever it comes up, this essential aspect of the background to the story remains under-reported by the media organization which claims to be “better placed than many to make sure that we report both sides of the story”.