Israel Set to Approve $230m Loan to the Palestinian Authority for Its Coronavirus Response

Government sources say the payment is an advance on the tax revenue Israel collects on the PA's behalf, after court hears of 'ongoing dialogue' to handle the pandemic

Noa Landau
Noa Landau
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A healthcare worker checks the body temperature of Palestinian workers returning from Israel, amid concerns over the spread of the coronavirus, outside the Israeli-controlled Meitar checkpoint.
A healthcare worker checks the body temperature of Palestinian workers returning from Israel, amid concerns over the spread of the coronavirus, outside the Israeli-controlled Meitar checkpoint.Credit: MUSSA ISSA QAWASMA/ REUTERS
Noa Landau
Noa Landau

Israel will approve an 800 million shekel (about $230 million) payment to the Palestinian Authority Sunday evening to help it cope with the coronavirus, Finance Ministry officials confirmed Sunday.

Government sources say the payment is an advance on the tax revenue Israel collects on the PA’s behalf.

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Under the agreement that is slated to be signed with the PA Sunday evening, the money will be transferred in four monthly installments. The first installment will be delivered at the end of this month.

Last week, in response to petitions against the transfer by two organizations, the state told the High Court of Justice that it planned to send the money as soon as possible, since the PA’s income has fallen drastically due to the virus. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, Defense Minister Naftali Bennett and National Security Advisor Meir Ben-Shabbat all approved the payment.

The state’s brief to the court said this was a political decision made in response to the PA finance minister’s request for “additional sums beyond the ongoing payments” because of the economic impact of the virus. To comply with the request, the state decided to sign a special loan agreement with the PA under which Israel will advance it money, but the money will later be deducted from the tax revenues Israel collects on the PA’s behalf.

Palestinian workers returning from Israel arrive at a testing site for the coronavirus at Tarqumiya checkpoint near Hebron, West Bank, March 24, 2020.Credit: MUSSA ISSA QAWASMA/ REUTERS

The brief said the decision doesn’t contradict a law requiring the government to deduct the PA’s payments to attackers and their families from the tax transfers, because the advance isn’t extra money, but will rather be deducted from future tax transfers.

In response to a separate petition filed by Physicians for Human Rights Israel this week, which demanded that Israel also help the Gaza Strip during the pandemic, the state told the court that responsibility for that rests with the PA, not Israel.

However, the brief stressed that Israel is taking various steps to coordinate with the PA during the pandemic, including “an ongoing dialogue with representatives of the Palestinian Health Ministry in Ramallah, meetings, consultations and the transfer of professional literature that has been translated into Arabic.”

Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer and the Magen David Adom ambulance service have held training sessions for PA medical staffers on how to protect themselves and treat coronavirus patients, the brief continued. Israel has also given the PA 1,950 coronavirus test kits and 2,400 swabs from its own stockpiles, and has passed on donations from the international community including intensive care beds, ventilators and ancillary equipment, tests kits, swabs, drugs and protective gear.

Finally it said, Israel has coordinated with the PA regarding Palestinians who were diagnosed with coronavirus while in Israel, and has also given the PA the names of Palestinians who returned from abroad via either Ben-Gurion Airport or the Allenby Bridge crossing with Jordan so the PA could arrange to have them quarantined.

Regarding Gaza, the brief said, Israel “is working in coordination with various international organizations and foreign nongovernmental organizations and allowing the transfer of aid to Gaza.” The transferred aid has included 500 gowns, 585,000 gloves, 500 pairs of goggles, 107,950 masks, two tons of disinfectant, material for conducting 1,184 coronavirus tests, 10 crates of other medical equipment, 20 tents for field hospitals and generators.

Last month the United States also approved the transfer of a special $5 million grant to the Palestinian Authority to fight the coronavirus. This decision went against current American policy under which financial aid to the Palestinians was frozen more than two years ago. US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman said that the money was meant to help hospitals and Palestinian families. “The USA, as the world’s top humanitarian aid donor, is committed to assisting the Palestinian people, & others worldwide, in this crisis,” Friedman tweeted.

The freezing of American aid to the Palestinians began as an attempt by U.S. President Donald Trump to prevent them from boycotting his diplomatic plan for an arrangement with Israel. Since then its aid budget has been cut to practically nothing.

Israel also cut its transfers of tax payments it collects for the PA last year, after passing a law that calls for offsetting the payments the PA pays to prisoners who committed attacks against Israel and their families. Over the past few months, the West Bank has sunk into a severe financial crisis, leading to frequent discussions between Israel and the latter over ways to prevent the latter’s complete collapse.

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