On Friday, the Prime Minister’s Office announced that it was implementing a series of sanctions against the Palestinian Authority in response to Ramallah’s push to get Israel reviewed before the International Court of Justice.
A reminder: On December 30, the United Nations General Assembly voted on a resolution to seek an ICJ advisory opinion on whether after 57 years, Israel’s “occupation” of Palestinian territory had become a form of de facto annexation and thus illegal under international law.
It asked the ICJ to define how Israel’s practices affected the legal status of Israel’s “occupation” of territory over the pre-1967 lines, which would include the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem.
Israel’s response was just a matter of time and it came on Thursday when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened his new security cabinet for the first time in Tel Aviv. According to the decision by the cabinet, Israel will withhold tax fees it collects on behalf of the PA, will freeze Palestinian building plans in Area C, will penalize Palestinian officials and take steps against non-government groups it believes are involved in diplomatic warfare against the Jewish state.
Israel will transfer NIS 139 million from tax fees it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority to compensate the families of Palestinian terror victims.
The sanctions by Israel might appear harsh but they are necessary. The PA has launched a legal battle against Israel with its push to the ICJ, as well as its application to The Hague a number of years ago, itself a violation of the Oslo Accords. The Palestinians have consistently resisted attempts for dialogue and negotiations with Israel and instead have believed that a strategy of legal warfare against the Jewish state can win. What they learned on Friday is that it comes at a price.
The Area C construction moratorium is particularly interesting and seems to have come from Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who has long advocated against allowing Palestinians to build in Area C, the part of the West Bank that is under Israeli civilian and military control.
A recent report by the right-wing NGO Regavim claimed that in 2022, illegal Palestinian construction in Area C increased by 80 percent with the building of 5,535 new illegal structures compared to 3,076 structures in the same period in 2021.
According to the report, the structures built in recent months were not temporary shacks or makeshift shelters that characterized much of the illegal activity in earlier years but rather what Regavim characterized as “palatial residences, sprawling holiday resorts, amusement and entertainment compounds and event halls.”
Smotrich has long railed against this building spree, which is seen on the right as a threat to Israeli settlement expansion, which he and most of the new coalition readily support. Stopping construction in Area C is one of three steps he wants to immediately implement in Judea and Samaria.
The second step
The second step is an effort by the RZP to get the government to authorize the illegal outposts that Israeli settlers have built throughout the West Bank without government approval. The settlement camp calls these outposts the “young communities,” which are in need of basic infrastructure but also legalization.
The third step is getting government ministries to take charge of the settlements instead of the IDF. This process has already begun with the authority over parts of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories placed under Smotrich.
The decision made by the security cabinet on Thursday is the beginning of these measures and shows how Netanyahu and his new coalition are focused on changing the balance of power when it comes to the Palestinian Authority.
This is partially understandable considering PA intransigence, slander against Israel and its delegitimization campaign. Israel does though need to keep in mind that too sharp turns could end up causing more damage than good.
While the PA is not a friend, it is also not an enemy. It fights terror and assists Israel. Jerusalem does not want its collapse. It is important to teach a lesson and explain to Ramallah that what was, is no longer. But it also needs to keep in mind that Israel has an interest in the PA’s existence. That has not yet changed.