'Overwhelming' Opposition at UN for Israel's Tax Deduction From Palestinians, Kuwaiti Envoy Says

Mansour Al-Otaibi tells closed-door Security Council meeting the Israeli decision was 'not acceptable,' while Greenblatt argues 'entirely inappropriate to focus on Israel'

File photo: Kuwait's UN Ambassador Mansour Al-Otaibi addresses the United Nations Security Council, at UN headquarters, January 22, 2019.
Richard Drew/AP

An "overwhelming" number of UN Security Council members oppose Israel's decision to deduct money that Palestinians transfer to the families of people killed, injured or imprisoned for attacks on Israel from their monthly tax revenue, Kuwait's ambassador to the United Nations said Friday, as the United States accused Palestinians of manufacturing the crisis over the tax transfer.

Mansour Al-Otaibi told reporters after a closed-door council meeting that Israel's action was "in violation of existing bilateral agreements."

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U.S. Mideast envoy Jason Greenblatt came to New York from Washington to defend close ally Israel. He told the council that the Palestinian Authority's decision to reject the latest tax transfer was only hurting the Palestinian people because they were rejecting the 95 percent of the tax revenue that Israel is not withholding, according to a diplomat at the meeting.

Greenblatt said it was "entirely inappropriate to focus on Israel," which was withholding 5 percent to 7 percent of the monthly tax revenue because of the Palestinian Authority's "abhorrent practice" of paying that money "to terrorists and their families," a diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity because discussions were private.

"It is the Palestinian Authority that has chosen to manufacture the current crisis. The Palestinian Authority is refusing to accept over $150 million in revenue to protest the fact that $11 million is being withheld, only to make a political point," diplomats quoted Greenblatt as saying. "Does that sound like a governing authority that is concerned with the welfare of its people?"

The U.S. mission to the United Nations declined to comment on Greenblatt's remarks. The Palestinians have condemned the Israeli decision as "piracy." 

Kuwait's Mansour, who called for the Security Council consultations along with Indonesia's UN Ambassador Dian Djani, said the Palestinians "have the right ... to do whatever they want with their money."

He said UN Mideast envoy Nikolay Mladenov, who briefed the council by video, said "there is a need for mediation on this to solve it."

Mansour said an "overwhelming" number of members on the 15-nation Security Council "think that this is a unilateral decision, it's not acceptable, it's a violation of the Oslo agreement and Paris protocol, and this is Palestinian money."

File photo: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas meets with Jason Greenblatt in the West Bank city of Ramallah, March 14, 2017.
Mohamad Torokman/Reuters

Indonesia's Djani said Israel's suspension of international observers in Hebron coupled with the withholding tax revenue were making things "more and more difficult once again for the Palestinian people — so that's why we are raising this issue, because we don't want to continue to escalate an issue."

One diplomat said Greenblatt told the council that members who disagree with Israel's decision to withhold the customs revenues were free to discuss it with the Israeli government.

Greenblatt also called on other council members to join the United States in urging the Palestinian Authority to end the payments to militants' families, which "create incentives for further acts of terrorism," diplomats said. The United States passed legislation last year to reduce aid to the PA unless it stopped the pay-outs. 

But in the meantime, the diplomat said, Greenblatt asked the Security Council to send a united message to the Palestinian Authority to stop "its irresponsible decision to reject the transfer of the remaining funds."

Greenblatt and White House adviser Jared Kushner have been working on a plan to mediate peace between Israel and the Palestinians. UN diplomats said Greenblatt gave no details of the plan on Friday. 

Palestinians have refused to discuss any peace blueprint with the United States in the wake of Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital in 2017

The Palestinian decision on the tax transfer came despite increasing cash flow troubles, caused in part by U.S. aid cuts, that could destabilize the Palestinian Authority, an interim self-government body set up following the 1993 Oslo accords between the Palestinians and Israel. 

Under the interim accords, Israel collects taxes on imports into the Israeli-occupied West Bank and in the Gaza Strip, an enclave under Palestinian Islamist rule since 2007, and makes monthly transfers of the proceeds to the PA. 

The tax transfers make up about half of the PA's budget, according to Palestinian Finance Ministry data. On February 17, Israel announced a freeze on about 5 percent of that money affecting stipends the PA pays to families of Palestinian militants killed or jailed by Israel.