Israel on Saturday froze NIS 500 million ($127 million) in Palestinian tax revenues collected on Ramallah’s behalf, in response to the Palestinian Authority filing a request to join the International Criminal Court earlier this week.
The decision was apparently made during a meeting convened by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday to discuss Israeli responses to the unilateral move by PA President Mahmoud Abbas, an unnamed senior Israeli official told Channel 10.
The frozen funds are Palestinian taxes collected by Israel which were intended to be transferred to the PA’s coffers on Friday. Israel has threatened retaliation against the Palestinians should they move to join the court, and Washington condemned the move as a hindrance to efforts at reaching an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord.
“The funds for the month of December were supposed to be transferred on Friday, but it was decided to stop it as part of the response to the Palestinian move,” a senior Israeli official told Haaretz.
A senior Palestinian official responded to the move, calling it “Israeli piracy,” Ynet reported.
Another senior PA official told The Times of Israel that the decision was a war crime. He said that the act will become the first complaint the Palestinians will present at the ICC, and that the PA has no intention of backing down from its intention to join the court. The tax revenue belongs to the Palestinians, he said, and delaying the transfer is a breach of international law.
Center-left party leaders panned the Netanyahu government’s move, saying it would only harm Israel’s interests. Labor-Hatnua party chiefs Tzipi Livni and Isaac Herzog issued a statement saying that “Netanyahu has no other solution to Israel’s deteriorating situation in the world [arena].”
The move was reported shortly after an Israeli official told Reuters on Saturday that Israel was “weighing the possibilities for large-scale prosecution in the United States and elsewhere” of Abbas and other top Palestinian officials.
The PA submitted documents to the United Nations on Friday to join the International Criminal Court after Abbas signed the Rome Statute and 19 other international treaties on Wednesday. The Palestinians moved to join the court after suffering a defeat in the UN Security Council earlier in the week, which rejected a resolution that called on Israel to pull out of the West Bank and East Jerusalem within three years.
On Thursday, Abbas asked the International Criminal Court to investigate Israel for war crimes allegedly committed during the 50-day war with Hamas and other Gaza terror groups last summer.
The Israeli official added that Palestinian leaders “ought to fear legal steps” as a response to their move toward ICC membership.
“(Hamas) … commits war crimes, shooting at civilians from civilian populated areas,” the official said, in reference to the 50-day conflict Israel fought with Hamas and other terror groups in and around Gaza.
Israel lost 66 soldiers and six civilians, and a Thai agricultural worker, in the month-long conflict, while the Palestinian death toll surpassed 2,100, according to Hamas officials in Gaza. Israel said half of the Gaza dead were gunmen and blamed Hamas for all civilian deaths because it operated from residential areas, placing Gazans in harm’s way.
A second official told the news agency that Israel may push these cases via non-governmental organizations and pro-Israel legal groups who can file lawsuits abroad.