Instead of calming the rising tensions and reducing violence between Israelis and Palestinians, Israel’s recent decision to sanction the Palestinian Authority for turning to the International Criminal Court puts “oil on the fire,” and is likely to “accelerate” Palestinian attacks, the IDF’s former senior commander in the West Bank said on Monday.
In an interview with Haaretz, Gen. (res.) Nitzan Alon, head of the IDF’s Central Command from 2012 to 2015, said Israel is “playing with matches” in light of the PA’s weakness and “lack of legitimacy” among Palestinians.
Describing the current situation in the territories, in which a variety of local forces are operating outside of Ramallah’s control, as “very delicate and explosive,” Alon said the IDF spent years trying to “counter terrorism and bring the Palestinians to the point that they recognize they won’t get their national aspirations by use of terror and force.”
But when the government “punishes them for their diplomatic steps” it creates an impression “that they don’t have another choice.”
“I expect that there will be more and more violence,” he predicted.
Last Friday, Israel’s security cabinet approved a series of sanctions against the Palestinian Authority in response to its request for an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice in The Hague on Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.
Among the measures Israel announced were the transfer of 139 million shekels (about $39 million dollars) from PA funds to victims of terrorism, the immediate offsetting of payments made by the PA to terrorists and their families in 2022, a moratorium on Palestinian construction plans in Area C and the denial of benefits to Palestinian VIPs leading the political and legal war against Israel — such as revoking Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyadh al-Maliki's travel permit.
The ability to confiscate the PA’s tax revenue comes from a 2018 law that allows the government to withhold a sum equal to about half of that paid by the PA to Palestinian prisoners and their families that year.
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Israel collects the tax funds for the PA in accordance with the Paris Protocol, the economic appendix to the Oslo Accords. The agreement authorized Israel to collect import duties for goods intended for the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and hand over the funds to the PA.
Speaking to Haaretz on Monday, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh warned that Israeli sanctions against the PA “will promptly lead to its collapse. However, some Israeli officials appeared blasé about such a possibility, with Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich indicating the previous day that he was not particularly invested in the authority’s survival.
“As long as [the PA] encourages terrorism, what’s my interest in helping it exist?” Smotrich asked at a press conference on Sunday.
The far-right lawmaker, who currently controls the Civil Administration, the entity that oversees construction, infrastructure and security coordination in the West Bank, supports a full annexation of the settlements and has previously stated that the Palestinian Authority is a “burden” for Israel while Hamas is “an asset.”
According to Col. (Res.) Michael Milstein, the former adviser for Palestinian affairs to the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, the economy has long been the “main pillar that actually preserved the strategic stability in the West Bank, preventing “the collapse of the Palestinian Authority or a new wave of escalation.”
But if the PA, which already suffers from a lack of popular legitimacy, is unable to pay civil servants “and to function on the economic level, this means that maybe the whole situation that existed for about three decades will be undermined,” he said.
“In his speech Smotrich explained that if the PA will continue supporting terror he sees no reason why this entity should exist, and I think that maybe this is his agenda. But the question is what will happen the day after this entity collapses.”
Calling such a scenario “a nightmare for Israel,” Milstein said that Israel would suddenly find itself responsible for all of the West Bank’s Palestinians for the first time in three decades.
“I don't think we're quite at the point of no return regarding the collapse of the PA, but I am really concerned,” he said, warning that such a collapse might not happen overnight but rather, over a period of weeks or months, power vacuums could begin to spread across the territories as Ramallah loses the capacity to effectively govern, leading to the PA’s ultimate fall.
“It won’t be immediate. It may take time and spread from one area to another but eventually if this policy of limiting the financial support to the PA —and about 64% of the PA annual budget is from the Israeli tax payment— the PA will not collapse but die gradually.”