The security cabinet on Sunday voted to withhold over half a billion shekels from the Palestinian Authority to match funds the PA paid to terrorists and their families over the past year.
The NIS 600 million ($176 million) that the government voted to freeze will come from taxpayers’ money that Israel collects on behalf of the PA.
According to Kan News, the NIS 600 million would be withdrawn in monthly installments over the next year.
In 2018, Israel passed a law requiring the government to withhold the equivalent amount of money the PA estimates will pay out to Palestinian terrorists and their families. Although required by law, the Security Cabinet must still vote regularly to approve the move.
Although this law is popular with Israelis who oppose the PA’s so-called “pay-to-slay” system that incentivizes terrorism, it is believed that this law could potentially destabilize the perpetually cash-strapped Palestinian Authority. Israel has in the past offered loans to the Palestinians to keep the PA afloat and prevent its total collapse.
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Health Secretary Nitzan Horowitz of the moderate Meretz Party abstained in Sunday’s vote, according to Kan, who cited sources who said he opposed the measure.
Prime Minister Yair Lapid (right) and Deputy Prime Minister Naftali Bennett during a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem on July 31, 2022. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)
Israel has long accused the Palestinian Authority of promoting terrorism and militant activity by publicly honoring attackers and paying stipends to their families if they are killed or imprisoned in Israeli jails.
Union leader Merav Michaeli reportedly told the cabinet that the Palestinian Authority stands ready to halt these payments, which are deeply unpopular not only in Israel but also in the United States and Europe, which see them as inciting terror.
“I know the PA stands ready to stop payments to terrorists and their families so we can stop these compensatory measures,” Michaeli said, according to an unsourced Channel 13 report.
Deputy Prime Minister Naftali Bennett fired back: “If you want to stop the payments, you should stop. There is nothing to discuss.”
Michaeli insisted they were ready but that such a move by the PA was conditional on peace talks.
“I know they are ready. We need to have diplomatic talks with them and that would be part of it,” she reportedly said.
The cabinet’s decision was immediately criticized by Palestinian officials, calling it a “financial blockade” of the Palestinian economy. PA officials have similarly railed against this Israeli policy in the past.
“The occupation government continues its piracy of Palestinian funds and decides to siphon hundreds of millions of shekels to further entrench the policy of financial blockade and steal our money, in a move that is causing the daily escalation in our towns, villages and… camp and the legalization of our bloodshed,” said Hussein al-Sheikh, secretary-general of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken Sunday, March 27, 2022, in Ramallah. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, Pool)
Last week, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called the fathers of two Palestinian gunmen killed in a shootout with Israeli forces in the West Bank and expressed his condolences.
Israel’s Channel 12 said the phone call was seen by the widely unpopular Abbas as an opportunity to make some internal political gains – hence its filming and dissemination on Palestinian social media.
Nonetheless, the current Israeli government has taken steps to ensure close coordination with the Palestinian Authority.
At a meeting earlier this month in Ramallah, Defense Secretary Benny Gantz and Abbas discussed security coordination issues.
A day later, President Isaac Herzog and Prime Minister Yair Lapid called Abbas in what is believed to be the first direct conversation between an Israeli prime minister and the PA chief in five years.
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