Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced on Sunday that he refused Israel’s partial return of Palestinian Authority tax money. Abbas took an ‘all or nothing’ approach on the matter, saying he will settle for nothing less than the full amount Israel owns Palestinians. He claims Netanyahu’s government kept over a third of the money.
Israel decided to freeze tax revenues collected for the Palestinian Authority in January, in reply to the PA’s decision to join the International Criminal Court in Hague and file a preliminary investigation against ‘war crimes’ committed by Israel. The normal procedure implies that taxes paid by the Palestinian people go through the hands of Israeli authorities first, and then are return to Mahmoud Abbas’ government.
Israeli officials argued in January that they view the Palestinian Authority addition to the International Criminal Court as a violation of the Oslo agreements between the two parties, and took the decision to withhold the tax revenues in accordance. The ICC membership would allow the PA to file criminal charges against both Israel and its other political rival, the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas.
Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blocked any funds from reaching the Palestinians in order to deter them from taking such drastic measures at the international court, but after he got reelected, he reopened negotiations. After intense back channels talks between the two parties, Netanyahu agreed to return to the Palestinian Authority three-month worth of tax revenues, after Abbas promised to drop charges against Israel at the ICC.
Now, the Palestinian Authority leader complains the Israeli government tried to trick him, as they returned only a portion of the owed amount. “They said they are going to send us our tax money,” Abbas explained on Sunday. “But when they sent it, they deducted one third.” The Palestinian President warned that if Israel does not pay back in full soon enough, he might resort to the arbitration of an international court. After all, Palestine is now officially a member of the ICC, since start of April.
The Palestinians estimate the amount Israel owes them at about 1.8 billion shekels ($450 million). However, Netanyahu’s government chose to retain a third of the sum, covering the unpaid Palestinian utilities during the tax-freeze. More than that, Israel claims the hundreds of millions it kept only cover a small portion PA’s bills, and if the full amount was to be returned and debts paid later, Abbas will have even less money to pay his public employees.
Nonetheless, the Palestinian President seems determined to get his money back. “Either they give it to us in full or we go to arbitration or to the court. We will not accept anything else,” Abbas said on Sunday.
Image Source: Aljoumhouria
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