World Pressuring Israel Not to Block Palestinian Tax Funds

Tony Blair says the U.S. has laws that would not allow the transfer of funds to the Palestinian Authority if the new government fails to abide by the Quartet’s conditions.

The international community is pressuring Israel to transfer NIS 300 million of Palestinian tax money to the Palestinian Authority, despite the reconciliation agreement signed by Fatah and Hamas yesterday in Cairo.

Both United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Quartet envoy Tony Blair have spoken to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and requested the funds be allowed through.

Tony Blair and Salam Fayyad - AP

“The money is Palestinian money so it must be transferred. That is a quartet position. Hillary Clinton made the same point,” Blair told Haaretz. “I think what happens when the new government comes to power is another thing, but at the moment Salam Fayyad is the prime minister and the arrangements are what they were always.”

Netanyahu has fully backed Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, who decided to delay transferring the tax revenue Israel collect on the Palestinians’ behalf in wake of the agreement. The prime minister told Clinton and Blair that the issue was being examined by Steinitz and that a decision will be reached within days.

The State Department confirmed to Haaretz that Clinton spoke to Netanyahu on the Palestinian reconciliation and related developments.

Steinitz’s move is strongly opposed by Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Behind closed doors, Barak was reported describing the delay as “capricious,” adding that this was Palestinian money and that if Israel did not transfer it, it would be in violation of international agreements.

The defense establishment and Foreign Ministry are both reportedly enraged that Steinitz acted alone to delay the money transfer, without consulting them over its diplomatic and security implications.

“Fayyad chased Hamas money more effectively than we did,” a senior defense source told Haaretz, referring to the PA prime minister’s efforts to block tax money transfers to Hamas.

“He shouldn’t be apologizing and offering explanations to Steinitz.”

Despite the unequivocal demand to transfer the money immediately, Blair said that in the future the international community would find it difficult to assist the new Palestinian government if it fails to accept the conditions of the Quartet − recognizing Israel, abandoning terrorism, and committing to agreements previously signed between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization.

“It is easier for the international community to deal with the government if it adheres to those principles. If not, it will complicate the situation,” he said. “I will still do everything I can to improve the living conditions of the Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. The donor support from the EU and the U.S. comes under very clear conditions.”

Blair went on to say the United States has laws that would not allow the transfer of funds to the Palestinian Authority if the new government fails to abide by the Quartet’s conditions.

“That is why it is important that the new government is very clearly constituted,” he said. “The Europeans will still expect the Quartet principles to be upheld. It is a difficult situation, we want Palestinian unity but in terms that promote peace. For us in the international community it is very simple − we have certain principles − recognition of Israel and renunciation of violence. Those principles stay. We will judge the new government by its conformity to those principles.”

Blair said current security arrangements in the West Bank must remain in place.