The chief Palestinian negotiator in peace talks with Israel lashed out Thursday against an Israeli decision to withhold tax revenues from the Palestinian Authority, saying the move amounted to “theft.”
Saeb Erekat said the freeze on hundreds of millions of dollars collected on behalf of the PA, retaliation for a Palestinian application to join a raft of international treaties as a state, was an act of “Israeli hijacking and the theft of the Palestinian people’s money.”
Speaking to AFP, he said the decision was a “violation of international law and norms by Israel.”
Palestinian Labor Minister Ahmad Majdalani called the Israeli decision illegal and a political, rather than economic, move.
An Israeli government officials said that Jerusalem would cut the amount of tax revenue it transfers to the PA, deducting the sum from outstanding Palestinian debts.
The Palestinians owe Israeli companies hundreds of millions of dollars for electricity, power and other services.
According to Majdalani, the PA owes the Israel electric company alone some $400 million.
On Wednesday, a senior official warned about the imminent drastic tax cuts, but said the suspended funds were “the money they spend on terrorists and their families.”
“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,” he said.
Israel considers the Palestinian payments to Palestinian security prisoners and their families as “funding terrorism,” the senior official said.
The move is the latest in a series of sanctions enacted by Israel since peace talks hit loggerheads and the PA applied to join 15 international treaties, some UN-related, last week.
In addition to withholding the tax money, Israel will halt development efforts at the Gaza Marine offshore gas field, and will limit money transfers between Israeli and Palestinian bank accounts, according to Yoav Mordechai, who heads the Israeli military unit tasked with coordinating activity in the West Bank and Gaza.
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered ministerial contacts between Israel and the PA cut off, except low-level and security engagement.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki confirmed Thursday a fresh meeting between the Israeli, Palestinian and US negotiators had been held Thursday. But she downplayed reports of a deal in the works.
“The gaps are narrowing, but any speculation about an agreement are premature at this time,” said Psaki.
Washington remains in “intensive negotiations” with both sides, she told reporters.
“We’re working, as you know, to determine what the path forward is for these negotiations, and that is up to the parties.”