Various initiatives to cut funding to the Palestinian Authority over its policy of paying salaries to security prisoners and their families will cause limited economic harm to the PA, Palestinian officials and experts said Tuesday.
However, they warned that if Israel carries out its threat to deduct the payments from the tax revenues it collects on behalf of the Palestinians, this would seriously deepen the deficit the PA budget is already suffering from.
The PA Finance Ministry said on Tuesday that Israel was already deducting NIS 120 million each month (from the tax revenues) to cover the costs of electricity and water that Israel supplies to the Palestinians, in addition to medical treatment Palestinians receive in Israeli hospitals.
The ministry pointed out that the PA government and its agencies were paying the prisoners and their families about NIS 100m. every month.
Palestinian officials warned that any financial sanctions would have a negative impact on relations between the PA and Israel, aggravate tensions
on the Palestinian street and embolden extremist forces, including Hamas and other terror groups.
The PA leadership stressed on Tuesday that it will not be deterred by these initiatives, including US threats to cut the funding, and will continue to pay salaries to the prisoners and their relatives.
Earlier this week, the Knesset passed into law
a bill that allows the Israeli government to deduct the payments the PA makes to the prisoners and their families from the taxes Israel collects on behalf of the Palestinians.
The Palestinians received another blow on Monday when Australia announced its decision to cut direct aid to the PA over the payments to the security prisoners and their families.
The two moves have drawn sharp criticism from the PA and several Palestinian officials, who claimed that the “punitive” measures were aimed at exerting pressure on the Palestinians to accept US President Donald Trump’s yet-to be-announced plan for peace in the Middle East.
“Suspending the funds [to the PA] will not have a severe impact on the PA because only 15% of its budget comes from international aid,” a Palestinian official in Ramallah told The Jerusalem Post
Another official said the PA leadership was not particularly worried about US threats to cut the funds “because they are anyway irregular and intermittent.”
The PA, he said, has learned over the past years that it can survive even without American financial aid.
According to the official, the big challenge will be if additional countries decide to follow suit and cut financial aid to the PA. “The Palestinian Authority will then be in big trouble,” he warned. The PA government will then have to seek loans from the World Bank and other international institutions, he predicted.
On Tuesday, the PA strongly condemned the law approved by the Knesset, while some Palestinian officials also criticized Australia and accused its government of “surrendering to US and Israeli dictates.”
Commenting on the new Israeli law, PA presidency spokesman Nabil Abu Rudaineh called it a “declaration of war on the Palestinian people, their fighters, prisoners and the families of the martyrs.”
Abu Rudaineh warned that implementing the new law would have “grave repercussions” and would pave the way for the Palestinians to lodge complaints against Israel with the International Criminal Court and the UN Security Council. “This is an unjust and dangerous decision,” he said, referring to the law. He also warned that, if implemented, the law would affect relations between Israel and the Palestinians.
The PA government, which discussed the new Israeli law and its repercussions during its weekly meeting on Tuesday, condemned it as a “flagrant violation of international laws and conventions and Israeli obligations under the terms of agreements signed between the PLO and Israel, including the Paris Economic Protocol,” which was signed in 1994 and serves as the framework for establishing the interim-period economic relations between Israel and the PA.
“The Palestinian leadership, headed by President Mahmoud Abbas, will not abandon the prisoners and the families of the martyrs, who sacrificed their lives for the sake of their homeland,” the PA government said.
The government said it was planing to take action against Israel in various international forums to force it to backtrack on its decision to deduct the payments from the tax revenues.
The Palestinian Commission for Prisoners Affairs said that providing financial aid to the prisoners and their families was within the framework of Article 22 of the Palestinian Basic Law, which is considered the constitution of a future Palestinian state. “The money that is being paid to the families of the prisoners goes for food, housing, education and healthcare,” the commission said, adding that this practice has been effective since the “launching of the Palestinian revolution in 1965.”
In response to Australia’s decision to cease direct financial aid to the PA, senior PLO official Ahmed Majdalani accused the Australian government of “submitting to US and Israeli dictates and pressure.”
Majdalani called on the Australian government to revoke its decision, which, he claimed, “comes at a time when the Trump administration and the government of the occupation are trying to put additional pressure on the Palestinian leadership and besiege it politically so that it would accept the so-called deal of the century.” (Trump has referred to his upcoming plan as the “deal of the century”).
Majdalani claimed that the Israeli government was the one that was “funding organized state terrorism and settlement groups.” The Palestinians and their leadership “will remain loyal to the fighters who, according to the Geneva Conventions, are prisoners,” he vowed. “All this pressure will not stop our people from pursuing the struggle to end the occupation and establish an independent Palestinian state.”
Tayseer Khaled, another senior PLO official, accused the Australian government of using the aid issue as a “tool of extortion” against the Palestinians.
“This is also an ugly method to criminalize the struggle of the Palestinians against occupation,” Khaled argued.
He also called on Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop not to follow suit with the US and Israel and to refrain from “politicizing” Australian financial aid and using the money “to serve Israeli policies and propaganda.”
Some Palestinians warned on Tuesday that Hamas and other extremist groups would benefit from any punitive measures that are aimed at undermining the PA.
“By punishing the Palestinian Authority, you are awarding Hamas,” a member of the Fatah Central Council told the Post
“Creating more bitterness and frustration on the Palestinian street will play into the hands of Hamas. And if the Palestinian Authority does not pay the prisoners and their families, there will always be others who are prepared to do. Do we really want Hamas and Iran to pay salaries?”
He and many Palestinian officials in Ramallah said they were convinced that the increased threats to cut funds to the PA were part of a US-Israeli “conspiracy” to “blackmail” the Palestinians and force them to make far-reaching concessions to Israel. They believe the Trump administration and Israel will now increase their efforts to convince other countries to suspend funds to the PA in order to force them to accept whatever the ‘deal of the century” offers them.
“These measures are doomed to failure because the Palestinians are not going to abandon their national rights in return for money,” the Fatah official said. “Our people have already rejected the Trump plan and they are not going to change their mind because of the funding.”
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