Israeli Ministries Propose Toll on Palestinian Goods to Plug Budget Deficit

The Defense and Finance Ministries proposed making Palestinians pay more for importing and exporting goods; opponents say move violates international treaties Israel signed.

ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid
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ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

During the marathon budget talks this week, the Defense Ministry and the Finance Ministry made a creative suggestion for covering Israel's deficit: a new toll for Palestinian merchandise at Israeli border crossings. The proposal was scrapped only after intervention by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and National Security Adviser Yaakov Amidror.

A high-ranking Israeli official said that during the budget talks earlier this week, the two ministries proposed amending a law stipulating that the interim agreement between Israel and the PLO regarding the territories be implemented. The suggested amendment would give the defense minister the power to "determine amounts of tolls and operational expenses" that could be collected on merchandise passing through inspection points and border crossings between Israel and the West Bank.

During the cabinet meeting, Defense Ministry and Finance Ministry representatives said that Israel could collect between NIS 100 million and NIS 300 million per year by charging the Palestinian Authority new fees for incoming and outgoing merchandise.

The proposal, one of dozens submitted for approval by the ministers during the budget talks, was met with more than a little opposition. Foreign Ministry officials said such a move would constitute unilateral action that would violate the Paris Protocol of 1994, an annex of the Oslo Accords that Israel signed and that regulates the economic relationship between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Livni, the government’s official in charge of negotiations with the Palestinians, was the only minister to come out against the proposal, saying it would hurt U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts to restart the peace talks. Livni said such a decision would convey a message that Israel wished to tighten its control over the Palestinians and increase the Palestinian Authority's economic burden.

In something of a surprise, National Security Adviser Yaakov Amidror sided with Livni and asked Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon to remove the proposal from the agenda. Amidror also said that imposing such a toll at this time goes against Israel’s interests and would harm it politically.

At first, Ya’alon held back from taking the proposal off the agenda. Defense establishment officials said during the discussion that their research shows such a toll would not violate the economic agreements with the Palestinians. But because of the opposition from Livni and Amidror, Ya’alon agreed to postpone discussing the issue.

“We’ll have a proper discussion about it another time," Ya’alon said. "We’ll listen to everyone and make a decision apart from the budget discussions."

A Palestinian worker checking a truckload of cherry tomatoes bound for Europe before it crosses into Israel at the Kerem Shalom crossing point near Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, March 2, 2011.Credit: Reuters
A Hamas official checking a truck loaded with gravel at the Kerem Shalom crossing.Credit: Reuters

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