Landmark Israel-PA agreements not news for the BBC

In the past week two major agreements have been signed by Israel and the Palestinian Authority, both of which relate to topics the BBC has covered – from certain angles – in the past.

The first deal involves the electricity supply to Palestinian Authority controlled areas.

“High-ranking Palestinian and Israeli officials gathered in a field outside the West Bank city of Jenin on Monday to turn on the first-ever piece of Palestinian-owned electricity infrastructure and ink a new electricity agreement between the two sides.

The deal, hailed as “historic” by signatories, will for the first time set parameters for the supply of power between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, which for years has seen the PA default on billions of shekels of debt and Israel subsequently withhold electricity. […]

The station will allow Israel to send up to 135 more megawatts to the northern West Bank area, though the agreement currently calls for just 60 more. The energy will provide a much-needed boost to the Jenin area, which has suffered power outages more than any other Palestinian West Bank region.

The station also represents the first time the Palestinians will be able to control the distribution of the electricity to their own towns and cities.

The PA will still have to buy its power from the Israel Electric Corporation. But apart from that, once the power is handed off to the PA, it’s in Palestinian hands.

When infrastructure breaks down — which once necessitated Israeli teams escorted by the army to perform repairs, which inevitably caused delays — Palestinian teams will be responsible for dealing with any problems.

The station was built by the Israel Electric Corporation, by both Israeli and Palestinian workers, but it is owned by the Palestinian Electric Authority (PEA) and the PA. The IEC also trained Palestinians to work, maintain and fix the site.

[Israeli Energy minister] Steinitz described the deal as a “win-win project” for Israel and the Palestinians.

“It’s good for Palestinians because they will get more electricity, which will be more stable and of higher quality. It’s good for Israel because…the responsibility [for Palestinian electricity] won’t fall on the shoulders of the Israeli Electric Corporation,” he said. […]

Jenin is the first region to receive a substation, but three more are on the way — in the Hebron region in the south, in the Ramallah region in the center and in Nablus in the mid-northern West Bank. With all four stations, the Palestinian Authority will control the power flow across all the territory it controls.”

When the agreement that paved the way for this new substation was signed last September, the BBC ignored that story and there has to date been no reporting of this latest news.

While the topic of Israel’s withholding of tax revenue transfers to the Palestinian Authority has cropped up time and time again in the corporation’s Middle East coverage over the years, the BBC has repeatedly failed to adequately inform audiences of the relevant context of the PA’s massive debt to the Israel Electric Corporation and the reasons why that debt has accumulated.

The second agreement signed last week concerns water and a project that the BBC has covered in the past.

“Israel and the Palestinian Authority on Thursday announced an agreement that will provide millions of cubic meters of drinking water to the Palestinians from a desalination process. […]

The agreement announced Thursday is part of a larger trilateral agreement for the construction of a 220-kilometer (137-mile) pipeline transferring water from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea — the lowest body of water on earth — to benefit Israelis, Jordanians and Palestinians, and replenish the dwindling Dead Sea. As the water runs down the gradient it will be used to generate electricity that will also power a desalination plant to produce drinking water. […]

The water sharing deal reached on Thursday calls for an Aqaba desalination plant in Jordan to sell water to southern Jordan and Eilat, while water from the Sea of Galilee will be sold to northern Israel and Jordan. Israel will sell 32 million cubic meters of water to the Palestinian Authority from Mediterranean desalination plants — 10 million to Gaza and 22 million to the West Bank…”

BBC audiences have seen much politicised coverage of the topic of water in the past. Only last March BBC World Service audiences heard unchallenged promotion of the falsehood that Israelis consume ‘Palestinian’ water.

Nevertheless, the media organisation that pledges to provide its funding public with “accurate and impartial news, current affairs and factual programming of the highest editorial standards so that all audiences can engage fully with issues across the UK and the world” did not find this latest landmark water-related story newsworthy either.

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No BBC coverage of energy sector agreements between Israel and the PA

The topic of Israel’s withholding of tax revenue transfers to the Palestinian Authority has cropped up time and time again in the BBC’s Middle East coverage over the years. However, the BBC has repeatedly failed to adequately inform audiences of the relevant context of the PA’s massive debt to the Israel Electric Corporation and the reasons why that debt has accumulated.

BBC promotes selective narrative on PA economy

Critical omission in BBC News report on PA tax revenues

BBC again avoids informing audiences about PA debt to Israel

Multiple breaches of BBC editorial guidelines in BBC WS’s ‘Business Matters’ report from Bethlehem

Last week an agreement was reached in an effort to try to solve the perennial problem of that PA debt to the IEC.pylons

“Israel and the Palestinian Authority signed an agreement on Tuesday to resolve the Palestinians’ outstanding debt of almost NIS 2 billion ($530 million) to the Israel Electric Corporation.

Under the agreement, the PA will pay Israel NIS 570 million ($132 million), putting an end to the 10-year debt crisis. The balance of NIS 1.5 billion ($397 million) will be paid in 48 installments, according to AFP, which added that a portion of the debt — likely interest accrued over the years — is expected to be waived. […]

A joint Israeli-Palestinian committee will be formed to oversee the transfer of responsibility to the PA of power lines that supply electricity to Palestinian cities in the West Bank.”

The same week also saw an additional development in the energy sector.

“Israel and the Palestinian Authority agreed to move ahead with plans to build a gas pipeline to Gaza in an effort to boost energy and water supplies to the Hamas-run Palestinian enclave. […]

A source in the PA told The Times of Israel that Palestinian officials were told the Israeli political echelon gave the go-ahead Tuesday. Israel and the Palestinians are set to jointly request funding for the pipeline from a number of donor countries. A committee comprised of representatives of such donor states is set to meet in New York later this month. […]

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that the Netherlands will help Israel build the Israel-Gaza pipeline.

“We want to help the population of Gaza and the first step is to improve the supply of energy and water… including laying a gas pipeline,” Netanyahu said during a two-day visit to The Netherlands at the beginning of this month.”

Given that the topic of the chronic electricity crisis is a regular feature in BBC reporting from the Gaza Strip (and frequently inaccurately attributed to Israel), one might have expected the corporation to report this news. However, neither of those examples of cooperation between Israel and the PA has received any BBC coverage.

BBC sidesteps the story of PA electricity debt to Israel

The latest chapter in a long-running saga played out over this last week when the Israel Electric Corporation (IEC) found it necessary to make short, temporary cuts in the power supply to Jericho, Bethlehem and Hebron.hevrat hashmal

“The IEC says the Palestinian authorities have racked up a debt of 1.74 billion shekels ($460 million), which the company can no longer absorb. Of that sum, the IEC says NIS 300,000 ($79,350) is owed by the Palestinian Authority. […]

 “I don’t know of any company that would be agree to do nothing about a NIS 1.74 million debt owed by another company,” IEC Chairman Yiftah Ron Tal said. “The time has come to put an end to the situation in which the debts just bloom. We weren’t left with any choice. We’re limiting electricity in a proportionate way. I call on those with authority to help us to collect the debts.””

The additional NIS 1.4 billion ($371 million/ £264.6 million) of the debt is owed by the Palestinian-run Jerusalem District Electricity Company (JDECO).

On April 6th a temporary agreement was reached:

“The deal struck Wednesday morning will see the PA pay off NIS 20 million of that debt and give negotiators one week to reach an understanding over settling the rest of the money owed.

If no deal is reached in time, according to a report by Channel 10, then the power cuts will resume.”

As readers may recall, in the past Israel has sometimes tackled the same long-term problem of the PA’s unpaid debts to the IEC by withholding tax transfers and on those occasions the BBC has reported the story with alacrity – but while failing to inform audiences of the scale of the debt and the reasons for its accumulation.

Despite the current pertinence of the topic of the Palestinian Authority’s financial priorities for British tax-payers, the BBC elected not to report this latest chapter in the ongoing saga of the foreign donor funded PA.

NYT reports on a topic consistently off the BBC radar

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.pylons

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”.

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