Israel has decided to freeze, for now, the transfer of half a billion shekels ($127.6 million) in tax revenues collected on behalf of the Palestinians, following the Palestinians’ attempt last week to join the International Criminal Court, a senior Israeli official has told Haaretz.
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“The funds for the month of December were due to be transferred on Friday, but it was decided to half the transfer as part of the response to the Palestinian move,” the senior official said. The transfer of funds scheduled for Friday was the regular monthly payment of tax revenues collected by Israel on behalf of the Palestinian Authority, made at the beginning of every month.
Israel, he said, would not let the Palestinians’ actions go unanswered. “We are a law-abiding nation that actively investigates its own conduct, and we can prove that easily.”
Israel is also looking at ways to prosecute senior Palestinians for war crimes, in the United States and elsewhere, in response to the ICC bid, said a different official yesterday. The official said Palestinian leaders “ought to fear legal steps” after their decision to sign onto the Rome Statute.
The decision to withhold the Palestinian tax receipts was made at a meeting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened Thursday to discuss Israel’s response to the Palestinian Authority’s application to join the ICC. Other possible actions were also discussed at the meeting, including filing complaints against the Palestinians in a number of courts around the world – whether officially in the name of Israel, or via pro-Israel organizations.
“We will not only defend ourselves against the Palestinians’ actions in regards to the international arena, we will also go on the offensive,” said the senior official. “And when it comes to war crimes, we have quite a bit of ammunition. In everything concerning war crimes, the butter is smeared all over the heads of [Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas] and his friends. They chose to go out into the sun, and there will be a price for that,” added the official.
The halt in the transfer of funds is only a first step in response to the Palestinian moves at the United Nations, said the official. The broader and more significant response will come later, he said. Officials in various government ministries will hold meetings this week, and a meeting of the security cabinet will most likely be held to make decisions on the broader response.
Saeb Erekat, a member of the PLO Executive Committee and the former chief Palestinian negotiator in the peace negotiations with Israel, said in response to the Israeli decision to freeze the transfer of tax monies to the Palestinians that it was “daylight robbery and an act more appropriate to pirates and not governments.”
“This is money that is Palestinian money, and therefore the decision of the Israeli government and [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu to freeze it is against international law, and proves the justice of our request to the International Criminal Court. What Israel did is a war crime that joins the crimes it has committed against the Palestinian people,” Erekat told Haaretz.
Israel can prevent the payment of salaries to
teachers and doctors, and prevent the provision of services to the Palestinian people, including women and children, said Erekat. The Palestinian leadership will meet in the next few days to discuss the implications of the Israeli move, and will tell Israel that, among others things, it will be responsible for the occupation – with all that entails, he said. “Let Israel worry about paying the salaries and worry about the daily needs instead of the Palestinian Authority. The time has come for Israel to take responsibility for the occupation,” said Erekat.
It should also be made clear to the Americans that this includes any decision meaning sanctions against the Palestinian people, said Erekat. The PA will also appeal immediately to Arab nations and the secretary-general of the Arab League, Nabil Elaraby, as to the implementation of the decision of the recent Arab summit in Doha on providing an economic security net to the PA – and such a decision could be very significant concerning the decisions reached by the Palestinian leadership.
On Friday, Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah spoke about the freeze of the Palestinian funds even before Israel announced the move officially, and said such a decision would affect paying government salaries on time.
The Labor-Hatnuah bloc also criticized the move. “Netanyahu has no solutions to Israel’s declining situation in the world. Weak before Abbas in the international arena, he is taking steps that, on their own, will not help Israel Defense Forces soldiers in The Hague,” a statement on behalf of Labor head Isaac Herzog and Hatnuah head Tzipi Livni read.
“We all remember how Netanyahu missed an opportunity to bring about the demilitarization of the Gaza Strip when he chose to speak with Hamas instead of enlisting the world to Israel’s side and advancing long-term solutions,” they added.
Meretz chairwoman Zavaha Gal-On concurred. “Half a billion shekels is exactly the money that will destroy the Palestinian Authority, stop security coordination, and endanger every Israeli citizen,” she said.
On Friday, the Palestinians delivered to UN headquarters in New York documents on joining the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and other global treaties, saying they hoped to achieve “justice for all the victims that have been killed by Israel, the occupying power.
Netanyahu has previously warned that unilateral moves by the Palestinian Authority at the UN would expose its leaders to prosecution over support for Hamas, viewed by Israel as a terrorist organization.
“[Hamas] ... commits war crimes, shooting at civilians from civilian populated areas,” the official said, alluding to a war in Gaza last summer in which more than 2,100 Palestinians and more than 70 Israelis died.
Washington sends about $400 million in economic support aid to the Palestinians every year. Under U.S. law, that aid would be cut off if the Palestinians used membership in the ICC to press claims against Israel.
U.S. and Israeli officials have been discussing over the past few days what steps will be taken against the Palestinians.
Netanyahu said on Thursday that Israel expects the ICC in The Hague to reject the Palestinian application due to the fact that it is not a state.
In a statement at the end of a meeting concerning the bid, the prime minister said the ICC should reject the “hypocritical application by the Palestinian Authority” out of hand, “since the Palestinian Authority is not a state.”
Palestinian Ambassador to the UN Riyad Mansour submitted the request to join 22 international treaties, including the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court at the Hague on Friday evening to the UN offices in New York. The documents were signed by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday.
The process of joining the ICC takes 90 days from the moment the documents are submitted.
Abbas ordered Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki on Friday to ask the seven members of the UN Security Council who voted against or abstained on the Palestinian resolution for clarifications.