Israel to withhold PA tax revenue, impose other sanctions after Abbas’s UN success

The security cabinet on Friday voted to approve a series of sanctions against the Palestinian Authority in response to Ramallah’s successful initiative at the United Nations last week to have the International Court of Justice draft a legal opinion regarding Israel’s conduct in the Palestinian territories.

Among the measures approved by the ministers, whose government took office last week, were seizing tax revenues Israel collects on behalf of the PA and channeling them to Israeli victims of Palestinian terrorism; deducting from the revenues to offset payments the PA makes to Palestinian terrorists, attackers, security prisoners and their families; freezing Palestinian construction in much of the West Bank; and canceling some Palestinian VIP benefits.

The security cabinet vote represented a significant departure from the policy of the previous government, which in several ways sought to strengthen the Palestinian Authority, fearing that its collapse would only boost more extreme Palestinian forces such as Hamas. At the same time, that government’s prime ministers — Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid — would not meet with PA President Mahmoud Abbas, let alone hold negotiations towards a two-state solution with him.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has long boasted of his efforts to isolate the PA and he has cobbled together the most right-wing government in Israeli history, made up of many lawmakers who support collapsing the PA and view it as a terror-inciting body. They do not share the view of the defense establishment, which stresses the importance of Israel’s security cooperation with the PA and has pushed successive governments to prevent its dissolution.

The security cabinet instead voted Friday to follow through on sanctions it had threatened to impose if the PA moved forward with its campaign against Israel in the international arena, with ministers approving five measures against Ramallah.

The first was to seize NIS 139 million ($39 million) in tax revenues that Israel collects on the PA’s behalf and hand them to the families of Israelis killed in Palestinian terror attacks, in line with legal suits on the matter.

The security cabinet also voted to further strip from the tax revenues the amount that the PA granted to Palestinian terrorists and the families of slain attackers over the previous year. Israel passed legislation mandating this deduction, but the previous government delayed its implementation over warnings regarding the PA’s imminent financial collapse.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) convenes the first meeting of his new government’s security cabinet in Tel Aviv on January 5, 2023. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

The ministers also voted to freeze construction plans for Palestinians in Area C of the West Bank, where Israel maintains both civilian and security control under the Oslo Accords. Israel has only approved a handful of such projects over the past decade, while green-lighting hundreds of plans in adjacent settlements. Right-wing lawmakers have long pledged to act against wildcat Palestinian construction in the area, and are acting on that pledge in the new government.

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who has also been given authority over a pair of Defense Ministry bodies responsible for West Bank construction, has ordered one of them — known as the Civil Administration — to cease enforcement against illegal settler construction while upping enforcement against illegal Palestinian construction , according to a Thursday report in the Walla news site.

The security cabinet also voted to approve stripping VIP benefits from PA officials involved in the effort to sanction Israel at the UN and other international arenas. These benefits allowed certain PA officials and their families to go through checkpoints that are closed to most Palestinians, or to move to the front of the line for faster passage.

In addition, the security cabinet said in a statement that the ministers voted to take action against organizations in the West Bank that promote terror activity or any hostile activity, “including “political or legal activity against Israel under the guise of humanitarian activity.”

Reacting to the measures, Fatah Secretary-General Hussein al-Sheikh said “the measures announced by the occupation government, foremost of which is the continued piracy of our money, will not discourage us from our position in pursuing their government in international institutions and forums .”

He called on the international community “to force the occupation government to release the billions of shekels that have been pirated.”

Israel already under the previous government outlawed seven Palestinian rights groups, claiming they were acting on behalf of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine terror group. But Jerusalem has yet to publish evidence of the claim, which has been rejected by a number of Israel’s European allies.

In an interview Friday on Kan news, Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan described the PA as “our enemy,” adding that the Palestinian ambassador to the UN Riyad Mansour “is the representative of an enemy that pays terrorists, that incites, that leads to the murder of innocent civilians.”

He spoke to Kan a day after the UN Security Council held an emergency meeting to discuss National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir’s visit to the Temple Mount, which led many countries to rap Israel for stoking tensions by allowing the move to take place.

Gilad Erdan, Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations, speaks during a Security Council meeting at United Nations headquarters, January 5, 2023. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Israel insists that the visit was in line with the fragile status quo at the site, whereby Muslims may visit and pray and non-Muslims may only visit during limited windows. It also argued that ministers have visited the site in the past, although none had the reputation of Ben Gvir, a self-described disciple of the late extremist rabbi Meir Kahane who was convicted in the past of terror-related offenses and has called for upending the Temple Mount status quo.

While the Palestinians had urged the Security Council to issue a statement rebuking Israel for Ben Gvir’s visit, no such move was being planned, two diplomats in the top body told The Times of Israel.

The Thursday Security Council session came one week after the UN General Assembly voted to adopt a resolution requesting that the ICJ submit a legal opinion determining whether Israel’s “occupation” of the Palestinians is permanent and recommending steps that should be taken if that is the case.

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