Abbas meets Mashaal in Cairo 311 (R).
(photo credit: REUTERS/Mohamed Al Hams/Handout)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is expected to convene his senior cabinet on
Wednesday to decide on the release of $100 million in Palestinian tax revenue
that Israel has been withholding since the beginning of the month.
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it was not immediately clear whether Netanyahu would convene his forum of eight
senior ministers to decide on the matter, or whether it would be raised at the
weekly security cabinet meeting of 14 ministers, one senior government source
said the prime minister has a majority in both forums for freeing up the
He will, however, face opposition from Foreign Minister Avigdor
Lieberman, who has come out unequivocally against the move, saying Monday his
Israel Beiteinu party would “do everything possible” to prevent the transfer of
the funds. Lieberman made clear, however, that despite his objections, his party
would not break up the coalition over the issue.
Netanyahu told the
Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Monday that he supported
transferring the money now because the situation with the Palestinians had
“calmed down,” and the Palestinian Authority has at least temporarily put a hold
on seeking statehood recognition in various UN bodies.
The decision to
freeze the money, which according to EU numbers makes up some 30 percent of the
PA budget, was taken at the beginning of the month after UNESCO voted to accept
the Palestinians as a full member. In addition to freezing the funds, Israel
also decided to react to that move by accelerating the building of some 2,000
housing units in Jewish neighborhoods in east Jerusalem, as well as in Efrat and
According to government sources, Netanyahu believes that
if the PA returns to its proactive efforts at the UN, Israel could once again
freeze the funds. Under the terms of the Oslo agreements, Israel collects the
tax monies each month and transfers them to the PA. Netanyahu said in the
Knesset that Israel ultimately doesn’t want to see the PA fail.
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minister has come under intensive international pressure over the past couple of
weeks to transfer the money, with one argument being that the funds pay the
salaries of the PA security apparatus, and it is in Israel’s interest for that
apparatus to continue functioning.
Israel froze the funds a number of
times during the height of the Second Intifada as a way of placing pressure on
Iceland’s parliament, meanwhile, voted Tuesday in favor of
recognizing a Palestinian state within the 1967 lines.
The vote paves the
way for formal recognition by the small north Atlantic island.
is the first Western European country to take this step,” Foreign Minister Össur
Skarphedinsson told Icelandic state broadcaster RUV. “I now have the formal
authority to declare our recognition of Palestine.”
proposed by the foreign minister, “urges Israelis and Palestinians to seek a
peace agreement on the basis of international law and UN resolutions, which
include the mutual recognition of the state of Israel and the state of
Despite Skarphedinsson’s claim, both Malta and Cyprus
recognized the state of Palestine after the PLO declared a state in November
While Israel had no formal reaction to the move, one foreign
ministry spokesman said it was a “disappointment” and would only “encourage the
Palestinians to avoid negotiations.”
The spokesman also said there was
little real significance in the step, saying Iceland is not an EU member, and
that the EU – as part of the Quartet that also includes the US, Russia and the
UN – has come out against unilateral Palestinian statehood, and instead is
working to try and restart negotiations.
In other diplomatic
developments, Israel and Russia held a strategic affairs dialogue in Jerusalem
on Tuesday that focused on Iran.
The Russian delegation was headed by
Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Ryabkov, a key Russian interlocutor on
the Iranian nuclear issue. The Israeli team was headed by Jeremy Issacharoff,
the foreign ministry’s deputy director-general for Strategic Affairs. Lieberman
also met with Ryabkov.
A similar strategic dialogue with the US and in
Washington is scheduled for Thursday.
Deputy Foreign Minister Danny
Ayalon left Tuesday night for the meeting, which is also expected to focus on
The US team at the meeting will be headed by Deputy Secretary of
State William Burns.Reuters contributed to this report.
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