A senior Palestinian official on Wednesday reproved the Israeli Finance Ministry for withholding Palestinian tax money as a means of pressuring the PA to halt reconciliation talks with Hamas.
Saeb Erekat, a chief Palestinian negotiator and PLO official, told Palestinian radio that Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz’s holding back of the funds “demonstrated the extent of degradation and extortion practiced by Israel against the PA.”
Israeli media reported in late January that the Finance Ministry had begun streaming confiscated tax money to the Palestinian Authority, which continues to suffer from a severe budgetary deficit.
Israel, which collects tax and import revenues on behalf of the PA, decided to withhold Palestinian funds — estimated at over $100 million a month — following the Palestinian bid for nonmember state status at the UN General Assembly last November.
On Wednesday, the ministry acknowledged it was still withholding the funds as a punitive measure in reaction to the Palestinian UN bid.
“Following the PA’s unilateral move in the UN General Assembly last November, the Israeli government has decided to freeze the transfer of tax money to the Palestinian Authority until further notice,” read the ministry’s statement.
But Erekat referred to other statements by Steinitz, unknown to The Times of Israel or Steinitz’s spokeswoman, in which he said the funds were being withheld by Israel as a means of dissuading Fatah from speaking to Hamas.
“These statements reveal once again the true face of the Israeli occupation, which wishes to instruct the Palestinian people [on how to behave] and openly practices piracy,” Erekat told the radio station.
Erekat was the second Palestinian official to blame third parties for the failure of Fatah and Hamas to reach tangible progress in reconciliation talks held in Cairo last weekend. Ibrahim Darawi, director of the Palestinian Studies Center in Cairo, accused US ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro of pressuring Abbas to desist from talks with Hamas in return for resuming negotiations with Israel.
“Israel does not want Palestinian reconciliation, and the supporting Arab countries should know this,” Erekat said.
In a second interview on Wednesday with the Hamas daily Al-Resalah, Erekat said the Palestinian leadership refuses to return to the negotiating table with Israel.
Erekat said that since winning nonmember state status at the UN, the Palestinian Authority has been subjected to significant international pressure to return to the negotiating table “under political and financial duress,” but has withstood the pressure.
“If Washington wants to realize just peace in the region, it should pressure Israel to stop settlement activity and acknowledge the legitimate Palestinian rights,” he said.