With the peace talks on the verge of collapse, and US Secretary of State John Kerry pointing a finger at Israel for the stalemate, the government geared up Wednesday to penalize the Palestinians for applying to join 15 international treaties and conventions.
A senior Israeli official said Wednesday that Israel is seriously considering a drastic cut to the amount of tax money it collects and transfers to the Palestinian Authority.
“We’re thinking of deducting from the PA’s budget the money they spend on terrorists and their families,” the senior official told The Times of Israel. “This step would be less dramatic than cutting entirely our monthly tax payments to the PA, but it would be step that would be in place.”
Israel considers the Palestinian payments to Palestinian security prisoners and their families as “funding terrorism,” the senior official said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has not yet decided to go ahead with the move, the official said, but as he considers various options to respond to the Palestinians’ unilateral steps, a partial freeze of the transfer of funds “could well be implemented.”
According to an Israeli government document, “every Palestinian inmate in an Israeli prison who is convicted of a terrorism-related offense receives a monthly salary, from the beginning of his imprisonment.”
Earlier on Wednesday, Israeli officials said that government officials have been ordered not to meet with their Palestinian counterparts, the first in what appears to be a series of punitive measures. The order did not include contact between the Defense Ministry and the PA, which would have hindered security cooperation in the West Bank, and communications related to the peace talks.
In 2012, the PA Ministry of Prisoner Affairs transferred $75.5 million to terrorists serving in Israeli prisoners and their families, out of a total budget of $3.1 billion, according to Israeli government figures.
Adopting a different tactic, Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Wednesday to annex portions of the West Bank.
In a letter to Netanyahu, Bennett requested “to have a session as soon as possible on an alternative plan (Plan B) to begin the process of applying Israeli sovereignty on areas in Judea and Samaria that are under Israeli control.”
The economy minister listed some of the blocs he wants to annex, including Gush Etzion, Maale Adumim, the settlements of Ofra and Beit El and more. These areas are home to 440,000 Israeli settlers, Bennett argued, and only tens of thousands of Palestinians, and would therefore not cause a demographic crisis and undermine the Jewish majority.
“These areas enjoy a broad national consensus and have security, historical, and moral significance for the State of Israel,” he wrote.
Bennett compared the process of absorbing these areas into Israel to the incorporation of Jerusalem during the Six Day War, and the Golan Heights during then-prime minister Menachem Begin’s reign.
The economy minister also declared the death of the peace negotiations, due to “a new record of [Palestinian] extortion and obstinacy.” Despite Israeli overtures, such as the release of prisoners, the Palestinians continue to deny recognition of Israel as a Jewish state; have violated the Oslo Accords by turning to the UN; and continue the incitement to violence against Israel, Bennett wrote.
“In light of all this, it is clear the current process has run its course and that we are entering a new era,” he said.
Responding to Kerry’s statements that construction in East Jerusalem led to the current impasse Tuesday, Bennett said “Israel will never apologize for building in Jerusalem.”
“For many years people have tried to prevent us from living in the eternal capital of the Jewish people. This won’t happen. Building in Jerusalem is not a ‘puff’ [sic], building in Jerusalem is Zionism,” he said in a statement posted to Facebook.