Israel releases PA tax funds

Lieberman slams gov't decision to renew transfer of tax revenues frozen since PA joined UNESCO; Blair praises move.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman 311 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS/Baz Ratner)
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman 311 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS/Baz Ratner)
Israel announced on Wednesday it will resume the transfer of Palestinian Authority tax funds to Ramallah, but not before warning it will consider freezing the funds again if the PA renews its bid for statehood recognition in UN institutions.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu convened his inner cabinet of eight ministers to discuss the matter, and it was decided – with only Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman opposing – to transfer to the PA $100 million that was held up after UNESCO accepted the Palestinians as a full member in early November.
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A statement from the Prime Minister’s Office said the decision was taken because the PA has stopped its unilateral steps at the UN. If those steps continue, the statement warned, “the transfer of the funds will be considered anew.”
One government official said that had the world taken punitive measures against the PA following its successful admission to UNESCO, then Israel likely would not have held up the funds, which account for 30 percent of the PA budget.
One step discussed at the time – and eventually dismissed – as a way of sending a forceful message to the Palestinians to stop seeking membership in other UN bodies was to downgrade the Palestinian mission in Washington.
Netanyahu had been lobbied intensively over the last two weeks from numerous world leaders, warning that the continued failure to transfer the funds would weaken PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, as well as the Palestinian security apparatus, which was playing a role in keeping the West Bank quiet.
Quartet envoy Tony Blair, among the leaders who spoke to Netanyahu about the matter, issued a statement after the decision, characterizing the step as “important.”
“As I have said on numerous occasions, this is Palestinian money, which is critical to sustaining the PA and should be transferred on a regular and predictable basis in line with previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements,” he said.
“Withholding these funds only benefits those who oppose peace and Israeli- Palestinian cooperation.’” After the meeting of the ministers, Lieberman – who has forcefully expressed his opposition to renewing the payments – termed the decision “unfortunate,” and one that will “not help rebuild the relationship between Israel and the Palestinians, but will rather allow the Palestinians to continue to use the money to encourage and commemorate terrorism.”
Lieberman said it was a mistake to transfer the money to the PA when President Mahmoud Abbas uses “the money to give stipends and apartments to murderers, and by so doing grants status and honor to the murders of Israelis and Jews, encouraging the next generation to join the ranks of the terrorists.”
He also said the PA was continuing its activities against Israel in the international arena, including incitement, boycott calls and “making unfounded accusations against Israel in the International Criminal Court in The Hague.”
Despite disagreement over this issue, Lieberman made it clear earlier this week that he would not break up the coalition over this matter.
National Union MKs also slammed the government’s decision to “zig-zag” and release the funds.
“All of the ministers that announced they would not help fund terror decided today to fill the emptying bank accounts of murderers released in the Schalit deal,” MK Arye Eldad said.
MK Michael Ben-Ari said, “Once again, it’s clear the Likud talks like it is right wing, but in reality continues to act like Meretz.”
Lahav Harkov contributed to this report.