PA President Mahmoud Abbas (C) at a meeting for the Central Council of the PLO, in Ramallah, March 4, 2015.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
President Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday complained that Israel deducted one-third of the tax revenues it recently transferred to the Palestinian Authority after a delay of several months, and threatened to file a complaint with the International Criminal Court.
He threatened to return the funds while speaking with reporters during a ceremony to inaugurate a new park in El-Bireh, the twin city of Ramallah.
“We will return the money. Either they give us all the money or we go to the court.
Indeed, we decided to return the money and we haven’t received the funds,” he said.
Israeli officials said that last week they handed over NIS 1.37 billion in taxes that it collected on behalf of the Palestinians in December, January and February.
NIS 160,000 was deducted from the transfer to pay part of the PA’s debt to the Israel Electric Corporation, which stands at nearly NIS 2b., an Israeli official said.
Israel had withheld the money to protest the PA’s application in January to become a member state of the ICC, a move that could allow it to bring war crimes against Israeli officials.
Last week, the ICC recognized “Palestine” as a member state.
Israel agreed to release the tax funds through February after securing a promise from the PA that it would not charge Israelis at this time. No decision has been made with regard to the March funds.
But on Sunday, Abbas said that Israel has to transfer the full sum of money.
“The Israelis have begun punishing us by withholding the money they collect on our behalf,” Abbas said.
“They told us they would release our funds and they did, but after deducting one-third of the sum. Why? Are these debts? Who decides? We told them this is our money and you are not doing us a favor. This is not a donation. We insist on receiving all what belongs to us,” he said.
Abbas said that the Palestinians were planning to bring other cases against Israel before the ICC, including regarding Israeli “aggressions” against the Gaza Strip and in building settlements in the West Bank.
“The Palestinian leadership is currently conducting a thorough study of these cases in order to present them to the court at the appropriate time,” he said. “We have no other options. They [Israel] have closed the doors in front of us. We are forced to go to the international forums to achieve some of our rights.”
Abbas said that efforts were also under way to renew the Palestinian statehood bid at the UN Security Council.
“We are not opposed to going to the Security Council, because it is the biggest international forums for dealing with crises,” he said, reiterating his demand for a Palestinian state on the pre-1967 lines with east Jerusalem as its capital.
Knesset Finance Committee chairman Nissan Slomianksy (Bayit Yehudi) said he wanted to convene a meeting of his panel to discuss what to do with the tax fees, should the PA return them.
He said that Abbas was acting as if he was in negotiations to join the new coalition government Netanyahu was in the mist of forming.
“Abu Mazen’s [Abbas’s] decision to return the tax fees is an act of insolence for which there is no parallel. It is ridiculous, alarming, and suggests a concerning sign of things to come,” Slomiansky said.
Herb Keinon and Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.
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