Top Palestinian Negotiator: Israel Acting Like It's Above the Law, U.S. Acting Like a Real-estate Firm

Spokesman for President Mahmoud Abbas calls law passed by Knesset, which withholds funds from prisoners, 'a declaration of war on the Palestinian people,' says PA may turn to ICC and Security Council in response

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas chairs the Fatah Central Committee meeting at the Palestinian Authority headquarters, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, May 29, 2018.
Majdi Mohammed/AP

Chief Palestinian peace negotiator Saeb Erekat ripped into Israel and the U.S., saying that Jerusalem was acting as if it was "above the law," violating international agreements. Erekat also blasted the U.S., saying that the administration was acting like a real-estate firm.

On Tuesday, the Knesset’s passed of a law that would deduct payments the Palestinian Authority makes to Palestinian prisoners in Israel and their families from the taxes Israel collects from its citizens and passes on to the PA.

Erekat said that Israel's decision to cut funds to Palestinian prisoners was tantamount to shutting down the Palestinian Authority, and that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, along with the Trump administration are not negotiating, but trying to dictate their peace terms to the Palestinian, terms which he attributes to Sheldon Adelson.

"We demand and expect the International Criminal Court to open an investigation into Israel's conduct and aggression towards the Palestinian people," Erekat said. "We still keep the international law and the decisions of the international community and expect they act accordingly."

>> Explained: The possible implications of cutting off payments to families of Palestinian terrorists

The Palestinian Authority, Erekat said, will persist to pay stipends to the prisoners and families of fallen Palestinians "for this is the basic principle and right of those families, and we as the leadership are committed to these families."

Also Tuesday, a Palestinian Authority spokesperson said the passage of the law equates to a declaration of war on the Palestinian people. 

“This is the crossing of a red line, a declaration of war on the Palestinian people and a major blow to the foundations of the Oslo Accord,” Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, told the official Palestinian news agency.

“If this decision is implemented, it will have serious ramifications, and all options will be open to the Palestinian leadership, from appealing to the international court to the Security Council,” he said. “This obligates the Palestinian people, the Arab states and the international community to take a clear stand against this act of Israeli theft.”

Abu Rudeineh added that the Palestinian leadership would discuss the issue and “take fateful steps relating to our relations with Israel.”

Issa Qaraqe, head of the Palestinian Prisoners’ Commission, told the Voice of Palestine Radio that the law is “arbitrary and racist” and constitutes “theft and piracy of Palestinian money.” 

The Knesset passed the law Monday by a vote of 87-15. It states that every year, the defense minister will tell the security cabinet how much money the PA paid to so-called security prisoners – Palestinians convicted of anti-Israel terrorism – and their families. One-twelfth of that sum will then be deducted every month from the tax revenues Israel collects on the PA’s behalf and transfers to it.

The money will be held in escrow and be returned to the PA if it stops making these payments.

The chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Avi Dichter, told the Knesset that the PA spends 1.2 billion shekels ($328 million), or 7 percent of its budget, on this purpose every year.

The original version of the law stated that the withheld funds would be used for the war against terrorism, “the welfare of all residents of Judea and Samaria,” which includes the settlers, and compensation awarded in lawsuits against the PA or Palestinian terrorists.

But the version finally approved says the funds will be frozen and returned to the PA if defense officials determine that it has stopped making payments to security prisoners and their families. The bill was changed after the attorney general warned that the use of withheld money would be a problem under international law.

The final version also omitted a clause the government wanted that would have let the security cabinet refrain from freezing the funds for diplomatic reasons. As a result, the cabinet will be obligated to withhold the money.

The law passed after a stormy debate in which members of the Arab parties’ Joint List clashed with Likud MKs. MK Jamal Zahalka (Joint List) called Dichter a terrorist due to his former position as head of the Shin Bet security service.

In another blow to the PA, the law passed just hours after Australia announced that it is ending direct aid to PA for fear that its money might be used to pay Palestinians convicted of “politically motivated violence.”