Abbas: I won't meet Olmert until he lifts PA tax revenue freeze
PA Chair speaks with Meretz MKs in Ramallah on plan to deploy an international force in Gaza.
Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas said Monday that he refuses to meet with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert until the latter transfers to the Palestinian Authority the tax revenues which Israel has been withholding.
Israel began withholding the tax revenues, which it collects on the Palestinian Authority's behalf, after the militant Hamas faction defeated Abbas's secular Fatah in parliamentary elections in January 2006.
"I will not meet with Olmert until he accepts my demand to lift the freeze on the Palestinian tax funds, in order to enable the bolstering of the security forces under my command and to begin building a port in Gaza," Abbas said Monday during a meeting with MKs Zahava Gal-On and Avshalom Vilan of Meretz in Ramallah.
The two met with Abbas for an hour and presented to him their plan, first reported in Haaretz, to deploy an Arab League-sponsored international force in Gaza.
According to the plan, the Arab League will take responsibility over the Gaza Strip, and with the support of Israel and the Palestinians, deploy in the area an international military force to combat Qassam rocket fire and arms smuggling, and aid in the financial rehabilitation of the region.
Abbas said that the MKs' plan was "interesting, but I can't accept at this time." He added that he would "study the plan in depth with my advisers and other senior Palestinian Authority officials." He also asked what the Israeli officials think of the plan.
Abbas explained to Gal-On and Vilan why he canceled a meeting with Olmert that was scheduled for last week. "Olmert should have given many answers to my demands and he didn't," Abbas said.
"I don't want a photo opportunity. I asked that he release the frozen tax revenues that will enable me to fortify the security forces and begin work on a sea port in Gaza, but he refused every demand," Abbas explained.
According to Abbas, Olmert justified his refusal to transfer funds for the building of a port by saying that "it is problematic from a political standpoint, and it would make Lieberman crazy," referring to right-wing Minister of Strategic Threats Avigdor Lieberman.
Abbas added that he would be willing to compromise on some of the demands he had previously made, "but I have to get something, in order to show an achievement. I don't want a sterile meeting."
Palestinian sources estimate that currently Israel holds $700 million in frozen tax revenues belonging to the Palestinian Authority. Israeli sources say that Israel can only transfer between $300 million and $400 million to the Palestinians, because Israeli courts have confiscated the remainder to pay for Palestinian debts.