U.S. Slams Freeze on Palestinian Tax Money: We Warned Israel It Would Cause Tensions

State Department spokesman also says Obama administration hopes to prevent the Palestinian efforts at the ICC from moving forward.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Cairo, Oct. 12, 2014. Reuters

The U.S. State Department said Monday that the Obama administration opposed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's decision to freeze the transfer of tax revenues to the Palestinian Authority in response to the latters' efforts to join the International Criminal Court in The Hague – but added that it hoped to prevent the Palestinian bid from moving forward, as well.

"We conveyed to the Israelis that freezing the tax revenues is an action that raises tensions," U.S. State Department Spokesman Jen Psaki told reporters at a daily briefing. "We oppose to any actions that raise tensions and we call on both sides to avoid it.

Secretary of State John Kerry spoke with Netanyahu about the Palestinian efforts over the course of the weekend, Psaki said, adding that the U.S. was in contact with the Palestinian leadership over the matter as well. "We would like to prevent it [the ICC bid] from moving forward," Psaki said.

The Palestinian efforts to join the ICC could cause "implications on our assistance," Psaki added. "Congress has a great deal of power in that regard," she said, but added that Secretary of State John Kerry also holds authority on this issue.

The Obama administration sees American assistance to the Palestinian Authority as important to maintaining stability in the region, Psaki added.

After freezing the transfer of tax revenues to the Palestinian Authority, Israel is taking additional steps to punish the PA’s for its request to join the International Criminal Court at The Hague.

A senior Israeli official said on Sunday Jerusalem would be contacting pro-Israel members of the U.S. Congress to ensure the enforcement of legislation stipulating that if the Palestinians initiate any action against Israel at the ICC, the State Department would have to stop American aid to the PA, which comes to some $400 million annually. The stop-gap funding bill was passed in Congress last month.

Both houses of the new Congress to be seated later this month will be controlled by the Republican Party, with many key positions filled by senators and representatives who are pro-Israel and anti-Palestinian. The law regarding the Palestinians initiating action at the ICC is strongly worded and states that President Barack Obama cannot waive a decision to halt aid to the PA.

The U.S. administration is concerned about the ramifications of halting the financial assistance, which is liable to make it impossible for the PA to pay the salaries of tens of thousands of employees. Although Arab states have promised to provide the PA with a financial security net, the Americans believe that, as in the past, the Arab states won’t cough up the money they promised and won’t work to keep the PA afloat.