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Israel to withhold NIS 1.6b. of PA tax revenue
By HERB KEINON
12/11/2012
Liberman says Israel won't transfer funds to the PA for next four months, slams EU for statement condemning settlement plans.
 
Israel will not transfer a shekel of tax revenue to the Palestinian Authority for the next four months, withholding the funds to repay itself after advancing the PA money to pay salaries, and to pay the PA’s large electric and water bills, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman said on Tuesday.

Liberman, in a tough speech in Tel Aviv on diplomatic issues delivered to Yisrael Beytenu activists, said the PA owed Israel NIS 1.6 billion.

“They can forget about seeing a single agora for the next four months,” he said, referring to the NIS 400 million in tax and tariff revenue that Israel collects for the PA and normally passes on to it each month.

Liberman said the funds to be withheld were not Palestinian money, but rather money the PA owed Israel for giving it advances earlier this year enabling it to pay salaries, and to cover debts it owed for electricity, water and other services to Israeli companies.

“First we will get back what we are owed, and then after four months we will check and see what to do,” Liberman said. Israel paid NIS 900m. to pay PA debts, and advanced it another NIS 700m. to pay salaries, he said.

Israel came under intense criticism from the international community last week after it decided – in addition to announcing planning for homes in E1 in Ma’aleh Adumin, and other new construction plans beyond the Green Line – to withhold the transfer of tax revenue to the PA in response to the Palestinian’s successful upgrade of their status at the UN last month.

Liberman’s comments came a day after the 27 EU foreign ministers met in Brussels as the Foreign Affairs Council and, using unprecedentedly tough language, blasted Israel for the E1 and settlement construction plans.

In addition, the statement called on Israel to “avoid any step undermining the financial situation of the Palestinian Authority. Any such action by Israel would undermine existing cooperation mechanisms between Israel and the Palestinian Authority and thus negatively affect the prospects of negotiations. Contractual obligations, notably under the Paris Protocol [on Economic Relations of 1994], regarding full, timely, predictable and transparent transfer of tax and custom revenues have to be respected.”

That statement also said that the EU would work to ensure that all agreements between Israel and the EU “must unequivocally and explicitly indicate their inapplicability to the territories occupied by Israel in 1967, namely the Golan Heights, the West Bank including east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.”

According to diplomatic officials, this means that future agreements between the EU and Israel will explicitly say that they do not extend to areas beyond the Green Line.

Although this was implicit in previous agreements, the likelihood that it will from now on be spelled out in writing may make it much more difficult for Israel to enter into such agreements.

Liberman, who slammed the council’s statement, said that final resolution was toned down a bit from pervious drafts, thanks to “my friend” German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, who he said worked to push forward a tamer version.

Despite Westerwelle’s effort, Liberman said “it is hard not to hear the lack of justice and imbalance in the resolution.”

On one hand the statement condemned Israel in the strongest terms for building in Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumin, and on the other hand, he said, it found “inflammatory” statements by Hamas leaders calling for Israel’s destruction as “unacceptable.”

Liberman said that the EU statement did not fully reflect the mood of many EU foreign ministers at the meeting who harshly condemned Israel and completely ignored Hamas.

“For them,” he said, calls for “the destruction of Israel” were taken for granted. Without mentioning names, he said some of these foreign ministers did not want to mention Hamas in the statement at all.

Liberman added that this said something about those countries that often claimed they understood Israel’s security needs and would guarantee Israel’s security.

Echoing comments made earlier in the day on Israel Radio comparing the actions of some European governments now to actions during the Holocaust, Liberman said that the Jews have seen in the past how certain European nations turned their eyes from the evidence and pretended not to see when Jews were threatened with destruction and sent to concentration camps.

In the Israel Radio interview, he compared the EU’s polices now to the polices of European countries in the 1930s and 1940s.

“I am not happy with Europe’s position that for another time in history it ignores calls to destroy Israel,” he said. “Hamas leaders said repeatedly that their goal is clear – to destroy the State of Israel. And Europe is quiet. The EU’s call yesterday was not condemnation of Hamas’s statements, but a call for Hamas heads to refrain from inflammatory statements. We already went through that with Europe at the end of the 1930s and in the 1940s.”

One European diplomatic source, responding to Liberman’s radio comments, said the EU’s commitment to Israel’s security “is clear and was repeated” by the foreign ministers in their statement on Monday.

“Relations between the EU and Israel are strong and diverse,” the source said.

“However, when we have differences, such as on the issue of settlements, we make them known and will continue to do so.”

Yisrael Beytenu chairman Liberman, in his speech on Tuesday evening, also blasted the leaders of rival parties Labor, Meretz and Kadima, for blaming Israel for the lack of diplomatic process and for continuing to consider PA President Mahmoud Abbas a peace partner even though he was quiet as Hamas rained missiles down on the South, and in the face of Hamas’s calls over the past few days for Israel’s destruction.

Liberman, No. 2 on the Likud Beytenu candidates list, said Abbas had come to the conclusion, with the help of those inside the country and abroad who believed Israel was always to blame, that there was no need to negotiate, and that he could get what he wanted without “having to give anything in return to the Jews.”

The foreign minister also warned that another round of rocket attacks from Gaza on Israel would lead to an immediate ground incursion and the IDF’s taking control of the Gaza Strip, “regardless of the price.”

The “world needs to understand” that Israel does not intend to absorb any more rocket fire from Gaza, and that the next time its reaction would not be limited to “surgical” air operations, Liberman said. “If there are again missiles from Gaza it should be clear to all that there is no other choice.”

The PA, meanwhile, welcomed the EU Foreign Affairs Council’s “Conclusions on the Middle East Peace Process.”

But some PA officials expressed disappointment over the EU stance, saying they were expecting a tougher position against Israel. One official said the PA was hoping that the EU would at least threaten to impose sanctions on Israel because of the decision to build new housing in Jerusalem and in the West Bank.

Nimer Hammad, political adviser to Abbas, said that entering negotiations with Israel “without clear bases and criteria would be meaningless and unfruitful.”

Hammad said that Israel must halt construction in the settlements, including natural growth in these communities, in accordance with the EU announcement. “First there should be a freeze of settlement construction and then we will talk about the next steps,” he said.

Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the PLO Executive Committee, said in response to the EU announcement: With Israel’s deliberate campaign of provocations and violations of international law and signed agreements, it is of utmost urgency for European countries to follow their statements with bold initiatives and concrete steps before it is too late.

She called on the EU to hold Israel accountable for its “illegal occupation of Palestine, reconsider its political and trade relations with Israel and agreements, including the EUIsrael Association agreement, implement a ban on Israeli settler products and extremist settlers, and rescue the chances for peace and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state based on 1967 borders with east Jerusalem as its capital.”

Khaled Abu Toameh contributed to this report .
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