Opinion |

The Illusion of Withholding the Palestinians’ Tax Money

If Israel withholds the cash, terrorists’ families will still be paid, but fewer funds will go to education, health and development. Israel sells tricks as an illusion for solutions to basic problems

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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Palestinian Hamas-hired employees wait to receive their salaries, in the southern Gaza Strip November 9, 2018.
Palestinian Hamas-hired employees wait to receive their salaries, in the southern Gaza Strip November 9, 2018Credit: \ IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA/ REUTERS
A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

The law to withhold the “terror money” that the Palestinian Authority pays to security prisoners and their families – from the taxes that Israel collects and passes on to the PA – is ostensibly based on moral justifications and cold logic. (Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu intends to implement this law starting next week.) These justifications dictate that Israel can’t be a partner to the compensation that the PA pays West Bank terrorists.

The assumption is that as long as there are Palestinians willing to commit suicide or be arrested after carrying out an attack – just to help support their families – the economic motive must be quashed. This logic is so persuasive that it has united the left and the right, even though it contains two hitches.

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Israel plans to withhold PA tax money that doesn’t belong to Israel, while it permits the transfer of millions of dollars to Hamas, which it describes as a “terror organization.” If there is room for shock at the fact that the PA transfers over 1.1 billion shekels ($302 million), about 7 percent of its budget, to the families of suicide bombers and prisoners in Israeli jails, it’s because Israel is willing to keep cooperating, on both the military and civilian plane, with an entity that encourages terrorists.

Withholding the tax money alone will not prevent the PA from continuing to pay the terrorists’ families, if it so decides. The damage will be incurred by the PA education and health systems or the development budgets, which will be cut to fund the “terror payments.” And if in addition, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas carries out his threat not to accept other funds if the tax money is withheld, the West Bank could suffer an economic crisis whose results would be no different from what we see in Gaza.

Israel has no interest in causing such a deterioration that could cause a conflagration in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and an end to the civilian and military cooperation with the Palestinians. But if Israel believes that halting the transfer of money is effective against terror, it must impose direct and sweeping sanctions against all the PA’s sources of income, and in short, impose a Gaza-style closure on the West Bank.

Israel isn’t willing (as yet) to adopt such far-reaching steps. Gaza has already taught it the lessons of the blockade, which has been a disappointment in every aspect. In other words, withholding the PA's tax money is nothing but a showcase action to placate the wheeler-dealers of the extreme right, an empty gesture disguised as a part of the war against terror.

The remaining logic of withholding tax money shatters amid the permission Israel has granted Qatar to transfer tens of millions of dollars to the Hamas regime in Gaza. This desperate step is designed to circumvent Abbas’ refusal to pay the salaries of Hamas employees, calm the Strip and halt the weekly protests still being held near the border fence.

On the face of it, this is a direct payment to a terror organization that Israel encourages in order to buy quiet. Incidentally, to buy quiet in Gaza, Israel could have withheld the PA’s tax money, and has even threatened to do so, but it preferred to let Qatar, a country that Israel has described as a supporter of terror, serve as Gaza’s ATM.

In any case, there’s no difference between the PA payments to terrorists’ families in the West Bank and the funding that Hamas receives from Qatar, funding that also frees up budgets for Hamas’ military activity and payments to the families of its prisoners and terrorists.

It must be admitted that Israel has no economic warfare strategy against terror, it has a wide sleeve from which it pulls out toy rabbits and lollipops to gladden the hearts of its audience. It sells tricks such as withholding taxes or transferring money to Hamas as an illusion for solutions to basic problems.

It tries to conceal the fact that the payment of salaries to terrorists and prisoners’ families isn’t the main motive in a national struggle that began long before there was a Palestinian Authority that paid a salary for terror attacks, and it will continue long after the withholding of taxes proves its worthlessness.

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