PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh gestures as he arrives for a cabinet meeting of the new Palestinian government, in Ramallah, April 15, 2019.
(photo credit: MOHAMAD TOROKMAN/REUTERS)
Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh said on Thursday that the financial crisis in the PA was real, and held Israel responsible for deducting payments to families of prisoners and “martyrs” from tax revenues it collects on behalf of the Palestinians.
Shtayyeh accused Israel of waging “financial war” on the Palestinians to force them to accept US President Donald Trump’s upcoming plan for peace in the Middle East, also known as the “Deal of the Century.”
“We refused to accept the money that was transferred to us because of the [Israeli] deductions,” Shtayyeh said in a video he posted on Facebook. “We want all our money.”
Shtayyeh’s announcement came amid claims that the PA was exaggerating the financial crisis as a means of pressuring Israel and the US administration.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas has appealed to the Arab and Muslim leaders to provide the Palestinians with a financial security net, he added.
“We hope that the Arabs will comply with our request,” Shtayyeh said. “We have also addressed the international community asking that Israel assume its responsibilities on this issue because it’s also in violation of the Paris Protocol.”
The Paris Protocol, also known as the Protocol on Economic Relations, was signed between Israel and the PLO in 1994. The agreement regulates the relationship and interaction between Israel and the PA in six major areas: industry, tourism, taxes, labor, agriculture and customs.
Shtayyeh said that in wake of the financial crisis, the PA was forced to take loans from Palestinian banks in recent months. “We will continue to take loans,” he added. “For us, the situation is difficult, but we will remain loyal to the families of the prisoners and martyrs.”
The financial pressure on the PA, he said, “is part of an Israeli financial war to defeat us and force us to surrender in order to accept the “Deal of the Century.” The Palestinian people will not be defeated. The Palestinian people will not surrender and will not accept anything other than what they perceive as justice, namely an independent and sovereign Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, as well as the right of return for Palestinian refugees.”
The PA premier said that all Palestinians were united behind Abbas’s rejection of the “Deal of the Century,” and expressed hope that the Palestinians would overcome the crisis, as they have done with similar crises in the past.
Citing the financial crisis, the PA has paid its employees only 50% to 60% of their salaries in the past three months.
Shtayyeh’s announcement came in response to remarks by US presidential envoy Jason Greenblatt, who said on Twitter that the PA prime minister “is wrong. The PA isn’t in a collapsing situation.”
Greenblatt was responding to an interview with Shtayyeh in The New York Times, in which he warned that the PA was “in a collapsing situation.”
In the interview, Shtayyeh said: “It’s a very hot summer. At every level. I hope we will not reach that point.” He also warned that the PA may soon be forced to “send our security people home” because of the financial crisis.
He also attacked as “blackmail” the Trump administration’s pressure on the Palestinians in the past two years.
“Time for the PA to step up & take responsibility for their people & the economy,” Greenblatt said in his tweet. “The PA can’t continue to blame the US & everyone else for a situation they caused.”
In another tweet, Greenblatt criticized the PA for secretly increasing the salaries of Palestinian ministers by $2,000 monthly. He was commenting on reports that the former PA government, headed by Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, had secretly approved a series of lavish payouts and perks, highlighted by a 67% salary hike.
“Wow. In 2017, Palestinian Cabinet secretly gave itself lavish payouts/perks incl. 67% salary hike (retro to 2014), while everyday Palestinians struggle due to a PA self-imposed financial crisis!” Greenblatt said, referring to an Associated Press dispatch on the issue. “Where’s the care/concern about the people?”
Leaked documents concerning the decision to raise the salaries of the PA prime minister and his ministers have angered many Palestinians. The leaking of the documents coincided with the PA leadership’s increased talk about a sharp financial crisis due to Israel’s deduction of the payments made to the families of prisoners and Palestinians killed during attacks on Israelis.
Shtayyeh’s government has distanced itself from the decision to raise the salaries, saying it was taken by the previous government.
A former PA minister who said he resigned because of financial corruption said that his colleagues had asked him in private to support their demand for a salary raise. “I told them that I was strongly opposed to the move,” he said. “I told them that it’s shameful to talk about increasing the salaries of ministers while the Palestinians are facing economic hardship.”
Hamdallah, the former PA prime minister, issued a statement in which he said that his government did not take any decision to increase his and his ministers’ salaries. “What happened was that some ministers went to President Abbas in 2017 and requested an increase in their salaries, and he agreed,” Hamdallah said.
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