Olmert agrees to release $100m. in PA tax revenue

By
December 24, 2006 00:24

Decision announced after Olmert-Abbas meeting.




Olmert agrees to release $100m. in PA tax revenue

olmert abbas 298.88. (photo credit: GPO)

Israel will turn over $100 million in tax revenue that it has collected on behalf of the Palestinian Authority but held up since Hamas came to power earlier this year, Israeli officials said after a surprise meeting in Jerusalem Saturday night between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. The tax issue was one of several, including the release of Palestinian security prisoners and Cpl. Gilad Shalit, that Olmert and Abbas discussed at the Prime Minister's residence. According to the Israeli officials, it was the only issue on which the two leaders achieved tangible results. Israel has frozen some $65 million a month in tax and tariff revenues since April. Abbas adviser Nabil Abu Rudeina was quoted after the meeting as saying it was the first of what will be a series of meetings between the two men. He said the meeting was "positive" and that there was agreement on a number of issues. According to a statement the Prime Minister's Office put out after the meeting, the money will not go the Hamas-led Palestinian government. Releasing the money was one of the steps Israel would take, the statement said, to ease the humanitarian situation in the PA. The statement put out by Olmert's office described the atmosphere at the meeting as "good and friendly" and said both men expressed a willingness to cooperate to reach a two-state solution based on the road map peace plan. Both men, according to the statement, said the meeting would be the first step in efforts to build confidence between the two sides. Olmert, according to the statement, expressed concern over the continued firing of Kassam rockets, and said Israel restraint could not continue indefinitely in the face of the attacks from Gaza. Nevertheless, Olmert and Abbas discussed extending the Gaza cease-fire to the West Bank. They also agreed to revive joint committees established at Sharm es-Sheikh in 2005, and that Abbas's Force 17 "Presidential Guard" would be deployed along the Philadelphi Corridor. Abbas was also accompanied by negotiator Saeb Erekat and former PA prime minister Ahmed Qureia. Olmert was joined by his chief of staff, Yoram Turbowicz, foreign policy adviser Shalom Turgeman, and military secretary Brig.-Gen. Gadi Shamni. Olmert has been saying since July that he was willing to meet with Abbas at any time, but that the Palestinians had conditioned the talks on a release of security prisoners, something Olmert has refused to do until Shalit is freed. Last Monday, Olmert announced that an joint Israeli-Palestinian committee would be set up to discuss the criteria for which prisoners would eventually be released, a move that apparently paved the way for Abbas to agree to the meeting. For weeks, Turbowicz and Turgeman have been in contact with Abbas's office regarding the meeting, in order to agree on a variety of issues to make sure it was successful. Two weeks ago, the two met with Abbas in Ramallah. During the preparatory talks, the Palestinians also asked Israel to lift roadblocks in the West Bank and to allow greater freedom of movement there. International leaders have for months encouraged both Olmert and Abbas to hold talks, with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who visited here last week, the latest to urge a meeting. The two-hour meeting was only announced shortly before it began at 7:30 p.m., though it has been widely anticipated for days. PA officials claimed that the meeting took place after Israel accepted some of Abbas's demands, including the deployment of the Jordan-based Badr Brigade - which belongs to the PLO's Palestine Liberation Army - in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, as well as the release of frozen Palestinian tax and tariff revenue. "There has been some progress on these two issues," said one official. "Israel has accepted our demands and that led to a breakthrough that paved the way for the meeting." Another PA official said Abbas urged Olmert to continue with his policy of restraint despite the continued rocket attacks from Gaza. "The president [Abbas] made it clear that the Palestinians want the cease-fire to continue," the official said. "The Palestinian Authority will do its utmost to prevent the collapse of the cease-fire." Hamas, whose leaders condemned the meeting, said the talks did not serve the interest of the Palestinians and warned Israel might exploit it to extract concessions from Abbas. "We're not pinning any hopes on the meeting," said Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman in the Strip. "These meetings are always aimed at exerting more pressure on the Palestinians. The Israelis always come up with new security-related demands and the Palestinians have nothing to gain from such meetings." In response to reports that Israel will remove a number of IDF checkpoints in the West Bank, Barhoum said, "The Palestinian cause is not about a checkpoint here or there. Instead of addressing the essence of the problem, which is the occupation, we are today talking about lifting checkpoints or allowing one or two cars to pass..." Barhoum cautioned Abbas against making concessions on Palestinian prisoners, saying Abbas should not agree to the release of a small number in exchange for Shalit. Hamas legislator Salah Bardaweel reiterated his movement's offer of a long-term hudna (truce) in return for a Palestinian state on all the territories that were captured by Israel in 1967, including eastern Jerusalem, and the release of all Palestinian security prisoners. He said, however, that a hudna would not mean Hamas would recognize Israel's right to exist. "We're talking about a phased solution," he said. "We will never give up our right to the entire land of Palestine." Speaking to reporters in his office in Ramallah, Abbas described the Hamas offer as a "trick," saying the Palestinians were opposed to the idea of state within temporary borders. "We want final status negotiations that will lead to a comprehensive and lasting peace with Israel," he said. PA officials claimed that the meeting took place after Israel accepted some of Abbas's demands, including the deployment of the Jordan-based Badr Brigade - which belongs to the PLO's Palestine Liberation Army - in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, as well as the release of frozen Palestinian tax and tariff revenue. "There has been some progress on these two issues," said one official. "Israel has accepted our demands and that led to a breakthrough that paved the way for the meeting." Another PA official said Abbas urged Olmert to continue with his policy of restraint despite the continued rocket attacks from Gaza. "The president [Abbas] made it clear that the Palestinians want the cease-fire to continue," the official said. "The Palestinian Authority will do its utmost to prevent the collapse of the cease-fire." Hamas, whose leaders condemned the meeting, said the talks did not serve the interest of the Palestinians and warned Israel might exploit it to extract concessions from Abbas. "We're not pinning any hopes on the meeting," said Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman in the Strip. "These meetings are always aimed at exerting more pressure on the Palestinians. The Israelis always come up with new security-related demands and the Palestinians have nothing to gain from such meetings." In response to reports that Israel will remove a number of IDF checkpoints in the West Bank, Barhoum said, "The Palestinian cause is not about a checkpoint here or there. Instead of addressing the essence of the problem, which is the occupation, we are today talking about lifting checkpoints or allowing one or two cars to pass..." Barhoum cautioned Abbas against making concessions on Palestinian prisoners, saying Abbas should not agree to the release of a small number in exchange for Cpl. Gilad Shalit. Hamas legislator Salah Bardaweel reiterated his movement's offer of a long-term hudna (truce) in return for a Palestinian state on all the territories that were captured by Israel in 1967, including eastern Jerusalem, and the release of all Palestinian security prisoners. He said, however, that a hudna would not mean Hamas would recognize Israel's right to exist. "We're talking about a phased solution," he said. "We will never give up our right to the entire land of Palestine." Speaking to reporters in his office in Ramallah, Abbas described the Hamas offer as a "trick," saying the Palestinians were opposed to the idea of state within temporary borders. "We want final status negotiations that will lead to a comprehensive and lasting peace with Israel," he said. Since becoming prime minister, Olmert has, under the auspices of Jordan's King Abdullah II, met Abbas in Petra for a brief breakfast. That meeting was expected to have prepared the ground for more substantial talks, which never took place because Cpl. Gilad Shalit was kidnapped shortly afterward. The last high-level Israeli-Palestinian summit took place February 8, 2005, when then-prime minister Ariel Sharon met with Abbas in Sharm e-Sheikh, though a number of ministers have since been in contact with Abbas, including Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Vice Premier Shimon Peres. Olmert spoke with a number of ministers, including Defense Minister Amir Peretz, before the meeting. The meeting took place despite the continuation of Kassam rocket fire on Israel. The attacks continued over the weekend, with one landing in a residential neighborhood in Sderot. One person sustained light wounds from shattered glass and damage was caused to a building. Five others were treated for shock. A second Kassam landed in a nearby Negev kibbutz. Witnesses at the scene reported that while no one was wounded, windows of some of the homes were blown out as a result of the blast. Yaakov Katz contributed to this report.


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