The EU on Tuesday criticized Israel’s move to freeze the transfer of some NIS 500 million to the Palestinian Authority in response to the PA’s joining the International Criminal Court and its declared intention to bring Israelis to the court on war crimes charges.
Also on Tuesday, the Palestinians filed a complaint with the UN against the Israeli decision to freeze tax and tariff revenues to the PA, and France warned the PA it could be harming chances for peace.
Palestinian envoy Riyad Mansour, in a letter to the UN, said Israel had “resumed the theft of Palestinian tax revenues in direct retaliation for the legitimate, peaceful steps taken by the Palestinian leadership in the pursuit of justice and for the purpose of protecting the Palestinian people.”
The Israeli decision “constitutes a blatant act of theft and of collective punishment,” Mansour said.
He added that the tax revenues constituted the core of the budgetary funding for governmental institutions, including in terms of education, health, public safety and sanitation.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas met in Ramallah on Tuesday with US Consul-General in Jerusalem Michael Ratney, and discussed with him the Israeli decision to freeze the tax revenues. Abbas demanded that the US exert pressure on Israel to cancel the decision, a senior PA official said.
On Tuesday, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said: “The decision of the Israeli government to halt the transfer of tax revenues to the Palestinian Authority runs counter to Israel’s obligations under the Paris Protocol. An effective Palestinian Authority, committed to nonviolence and a peaceful resolution of the conflict, is a key element for a two-state solution.”
The Paris Protocol is the 1994 protocol on economic relations between Israel and the PLO that was incorporated into the Oslo Accords.
Mogherini said that the EU was providing considerable support, including financial assistance, to build up the infrastructure for a future Palestinian state, and that should “not be put at risk by not meeting obligations regarding the timely and transparent transfer of tax and custom revenues.”
Mogherini, noticeably, did not issue a similar statement last week criticizing the Palestinians when they brought their resolution to the UN Security Council calling for a full Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines, even though that was a clear breach of the Oslo process.
In a letter to prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1993, PLO chief Yasser Arafat wrote: “All outstanding issues relating to permanent status will be resolved through negotiations.”
Mogherini in her statement on Tuesday said that recent steps taken by both sides could “aggravate the already tense situation on the ground and bring them further away from a negotiated solution.
Both sides should refrain from taking actions which could raise obstacles to the rapid return to the negotiations.”
While she did mention specifically Israel’s freeze of the tax revenue transfer, her statement did not mention either the PA move at the UN or its application to the ICC.
After backing the PA’s UN Security Council resolution last week, France signaled concern that Abbas’s diplomatic offensive could harm chances for peace by antagonizing Israel.
“We are against the logic of letting this spiral [out of control],” Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told reporters. “While we think the Palestinians have the right to move the status quo, at the same time there has to be an effort to find a consensus solution. Once you set this cycle off, you get results that you don’t want one way or another.”
On Monday, US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the US was “deeply troubled” by the Palestinian action regarding the ICC.
The action was “entirely counterproductive and does nothing to further the aspirations of the Palestinian people for a sovereign and independent state. It badly damages the atmosphere with the very people with whom they ultimately need to make peace,” she said.
Of Israel’s decision to freeze the tax revenue, Psaki said, “We’re opposed to any actions that raise tensions, and obviously, this is one that raises tensions.”
Responding to the Palestinian application to the ICC as well as threats that it will soon go back to the Security Council and try again to get its resolution passed, this time with a Security Council composition that since the beginning of the month is more inclined toward the Palestinians position, an Israeli government official said that “if the Palestinians want to keep banging their heads against the wall, they can do so.
“But let’s be clear,” the official said. “If they continue with these sorts of unilateral steps, Israel reserves the right to respond.”
The official would not say whether any other steps against the PA were immediately in the offing.
The official said it would be counterproductive for the Palestinian to carry through with their threat to go to the Security Council now that the composition changed and two vigorous opponents of Israel – Malaysia and Venezuela – have joined the ranks, saying that they would still likely fail this time as well.
The Palestinians fell one vote short last week of securing the nine votes necessary for the resolution to pass or, in this particular case, to trigger a US veto. Abbas said on Sunday he hoped to resubmit the resolution “perhaps after a week.”
Khaled Abu Toameh and Reuters contributed to this report.