Government considering release of PA tax funds

"Islamic wave is flooding the region," Netanyahu tells Knesset committee, warning of "increasing security threats."

November 29, 2011 04:48
4 minute read.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at Knesset c'tee

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at FADC 311. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)

The government is considering releasing tax funds to the Palestinian Authority, which Israel has been holding since the PA joined the UN cultural agency last month, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Monday.

“Israel will examine this possibility, in light of the current calm situation,” Netanyahu said, adding that the PA seems to have slowed its unilateral steps toward statehood. Should they renew those steps, the government will freeze funding again, he said.

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A source in the Prime Minister’s Office said that they would look at each month individually, before making decisions about transferring funds.

“We’re not interested in leading the PA to collapse,” the source said.

Also on Monday, Defense Minister Ehud Barak spoke out in favor of releasing the funds to the PA, saying that “the money belongs to them, we just collect it.”

In reference to the expectation that the Palestinians would bring statehood to a UN vote in September, Netanyahu said: “We successfully avoided the [negative] forecasts on the international stage. We see things quieting down on the Palestinian side – they have decided to stop these steps,” he added. “We didn’t need a veto in the UN Security Council. It’s in the Palestinian interest to stop.

They know that their actions have a price.”

According to Netanyahu, the PA does not plan to continue in its attempts to join UN agencies or bring statehood to a vote in the UN General Assembly.

In addition, the prime minister said that the PA’s “union with Hamas is ceremonial, and does not have concrete results.”

MK Amir Peretz (Labor) told Netanyahu that “it wouldn’t hurt the situation in the Middle East if there was a picture of you and [PA President Mahmoud] Abbas together.”

“There already is a picture like that, by Benetton, and I don’t think it helped,” Netanyahu joked, referring to an advertisement that appears to depict him and the PA leader kissing.

“The real goal, as far as we’re concerned, is negotiation without preconditions,” the prime minister added.

“The reason Abbas did not seek direct negotiations is that he understood that he could gain more by avoiding them, without paying a price.”

However, he explained, “the demand to freeze construction [in the West Bank and east Jerusalem] has become a central point, uprooting our ability to begin talks.”

Netanyahu also said that the unity deal between the PA and Hamas is not of major concern, because it is mainly “ceremonial and does not have practical results.”

In response to calls from Labor MKs to release jailed Fatah-Tanzim leader Marwan Barghouti, the prime minister said he’s “not excited” about the idea.

“Barghouti could take the PA to other directions, as a part of his desire to compete with Hamas,” Netanyahu said. “Just because he has leadership abilities, doesn’t mean he should be let out [of prison].”

Netanyahu also addressed events in the Middle East, saying that “the whole region is being flooded by an Islamic wave. At this stage, it’s hard to say when the region will stabilize,” he continued. “Without the development of political and economic freedom for the individual, it’s unclear that current changes will satisfy the citizens [demonstrating] on the streets.”

The prime minister said that there is a degree of uncertainty as to the fate of weapons in states that are facing upheaval, pointing out that arms from Libya have reached Sinai and Gaza.

“We hope and are taking action to protect and stabilize the peace treaty with Egypt,” Netanyahu explained. “I do not expect that we will have the same intimate relations we had in the past with the new leader. We cannot base our security on a peace treaty alone, because treaties can unravel.”

At the same time, the prime minister emphasized that there is an “interest in keeping Jordan a strong state.”

“Jordan is our partner in peace. Its importance is clear to all of us,” he added.

Netanyahu explained that “security threats on Israel are increasing,” which in turn “puts a lot of pressure on the defense budget. We must have economic responsibility.

I have no doubt that we will have to make important decisions on the defense budget,” he added.

Some of the defense expenses that Netanyahu mentioned included additional Iron Dome batteries and building the security barrier along the southern border.

Netanyahu then asked Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Chairman Shaul Mofaz (Kadima) to stop delaying NIS 600 million in defense-budget funds, which he said would mostly be dedicated to the barrier’s construction.

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