Blair Urges Israel to Release Withheld Palestinian Tax Money

The Quartet representative to the Middle East and former British prime minister says such a move would serve the needs of both Israelis and Palestinians.

Quartet Representative to the Middle East Tony Blair said Monday he is still pursuing efforts with the Israeli Government to expedite the transfer of Palestinian tax revenues withheld by Israel, saying that release of the funds is obligatory and serves the interests of both sides.

Blair affirmed the importance of the immediate transfer of these revenues. The former British prime minister said, “This is Palestinian money that is vital and necessary for the PA to continue functioning and providing services to Palestinians.”

Blair - AP - October 23, 2011

Earlier on Monday, Israel's cabinet met to discuss the possibility of unfreezing the tax revenues to the Palestinian Authority, the transfer of which was halted after UNESCO granted the Palestinians full membership. According to sources, no decision was reached and further discussions are to take place in the coming days.

Before the meeting, officials at the finance and defense ministries estimated that the cabinet will approve the thaw of $100 million of tax funds Israel had collected for the Palestinian Authority during the month of October. However, during the meeting Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz could not reach an agreement on the matter.

The $100 million are Palestinian money which Israel collects for it under the Oslo Accords. GOC Central Command and the Shin Bet both believe that the continued withholding of the funds would hurt the salaries of Palestinian police officers, which could ultimately destabilize security arrangements in the West Bank.

Netanyahu may have decided not to bring the issue to a vote following a report he received from his envoy Yitzhak Molcho, who met with Quartet representative in Jerusalem on Monday morning. Sources in the prime minister's office said the Quartet meeting ended in disappointment after the Palestinians refused to return to the negotiating table without preconditions.