lieberman - Michal Fattal - October 12 2011
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman Photo by Michal Fattal
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Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has rebuffed a German request that Israel stop withholding Palestinian tax money in response to UNESCO's decision to grant full membership to the Palestinian Authority.

Increasing the strain on an already tense relationship between the two countries, Lieberman told German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle the sanctions on the Palestinians were necessary because of the unilateral steps they were taking, senior Foreign Ministry officials said.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas "is taking the money and handing it out to murderers," the Foreign Ministry officials quoted Lieberman as saying to Westerwelle on Thursday. "He is continuing to take unilateral steps, both in the UN Security Council and in the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Israel cannot be expected to be the one who adheres to the rules of the game. We also have emotions and public opinion."

Israel froze the tax income from October that it collects for the Palestinians after UNESCO voted to make Palestine a full member earlier this month. The PA uses the estimated $100 million a month to pay wages to thousands of security personnel, government officials and civil servants.

Lieberman also rejected the German argument that another sanction, Israel's plans to expedite the construction of 2,000 housing units in East Jerusalem and the West Bank areas of Gush Etzion and Ma'aleh Adumim, would escalate the security situation.

"Stop talking to me about settlements - they have never been an obstacle to peace," Lieberman told his German counterpart, said the Foreign Ministry officials. "With all due friendliness and esteem, we will not accept that [the southern Jerusalem neighborhood of] Gilo is a settlement."

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office has said the housing will be built in areas that would remain under Israeli control under any future peace agreement.

According to German sources, Westerwelle expressed his country's strong objection to Israel's declared intentions to freeze the tax funds and accelerate construction in the settlements. They said Westerwelle had warned Lieberman about taking additional unilateral steps and had told him that withholding the tax funds was liable to cause the security situation in the West Bank to deteriorate.

Germany voted against granting full UNESCO membership to Palestine, and highly placed German government sources said the Angela Merkel government viewed the Israeli sanctions as "planned escalation."

Unlike the German officials, Israeli sources did not characterize the conversation as harsh.

"It was a long and good conversation," said a Foreign Ministry source in Jerusalem. "They didn't agree on anything, but there was no tension, and ties between them are good and friendly."

National Security Adviser Yaakov Amidror also received complaints about the Israeli sanctions, from Christoph Heusgen, Chancellor Merkel's adviser on foreign and security policy, and Andreas Michaelis, the German ambassador to Israel.

Washington has also expressed objections to the tax freeze.

Over the past few months, Berlin has issued stinging criticism over Israel's policies toward the Palestinians, particularly regarding construction in the settlements. A few weeks ago, Merkel reprimanded Netanyahu over plans to build housing in Jerusalem neighborhoods over the Green Line, and speculation has been rife that Berlin is "reconsidering" the sale of a sixth Dolphin-class submarine to Israel.

קראו כתבה זו בעברית: מרקל דרשה לחדש את העברת הכסף לרשות – ליברמן סירב