Israeli National Security Adviser: PA Could Collapse if Israel Withholds Tax Funds

Yossi Cohen responds to rightist MK calling to use tax funds to offset the money getting paid to terrorists in Israeli jail.

ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid
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National Security Adviser Yossi Cohen during a Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee hearing, December 7, 2014.
National Security Adviser Yossi Cohen during a Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee hearing, December 7, 2014.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

Israel is not halting the transfer of Palestinian tax money, nor is it using it to offset the Palestinian Authority's huge debt to the Israel Electric Corporation for fear the PA will collapse financially, National Security Adviser Yossi Cohen told MKs on Sunday.

Cohen was addressing the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, at a hearing initiated by MK Orit Strock (Habayit Hayehudi). Strock claimed that the PA was paying salaries of tens of millions of shekels to Palestinian terrorists being held in Israeli jails, and argued that Israel ought to withhold money from the taxes it collects for the PA to offset the money getting paid to terrorists.

Habayit Hayehudi MK Orit Strock during a Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee hearing, December 8, 2014.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

Israel is responsible for collecting various indirect taxes for the Palestinian Authority, primarily customs duty, value added tax and sales tax

Strock had requested the hearing through Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein a week ago, after bringing her claims to the Finance Committee last month. Representatives of the security establishment said that the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee was the place for this discussion. The hearing on Sunday was exceptional in two ways: it was fast-tracked, and it was broadcast live on the Knesset Channel.

During the hearing, Strock said that terrorists were telling their Israeli interrogators that they had carried out the attacks they were suspected of solely to earn such a salary from the PA.

“This has essentially turned into a preferred profession,” Strock told the meeting. "I did the math and found that the difference between the average salary for a terrorist sitting in Israeli jail and the average Palestinian policeman's salary – who is supposed to prevent the terror attacks – is 800 shekels in favor of the terrorist." During Operation Brother’s Keeper, the military mission aiming to find the three teens who were kidnapped in Gush Etzion in June, she added, “we withheld the salaries for one month. I want to ask, have we gone crazy? Why do we have to fund this for them? We need to stop this, now.”

Cohen rejected Strock’s remarks, saying that her suggestions had been examined in the past by the security establishment. Tax funds were withheld briefly during the fighting with Gaza over the summer, he said, but were later reinstated. “The collapse of the PA is a substantial concern that the State of Israel takes into account.”

Cohen added that even if Israel would hold back 20 million to 25 million shekels ($5 million to $6.3 million) of Palestinian tax money, it wouldn’t stop the transfer of salaries to jailed Palestinian terrorists.

“The day we try to withhold the money and the PA won’t have sanitation and health services and the sewage will start overflowing," he warned, "there will be an international outcry.”

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