‘A strange paradox’: Abbas derides Israel for softening on Hamas, punishing PA

PA president says informal ceasefire understandings with Gaza rulers are being implemented while PA is ‘squeezed’ on a daily basis

Adam Rasgon is a former Palestinian affairs reporter at The Times of Israel

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during a meeting at the presidential compound in the West Bank city of Ramallah on October 6, 2019. (Abbas Momani/AFP)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during a meeting at the presidential compound in the West Bank city of Ramallah on October 6, 2019. (Abbas Momani/AFP)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has called Israel’s move to achieve ceasefire understandings with Hamas while withholding funds from Ramallah and advancing settlement activity in the West Bank a “strange paradox.”

Abbas made the comment in a speech to Fatah members on Sunday at the PA presidential headquarters in Ramallah.

“Here, we are blocked from funds and the land is being gradually taken. Over there [in Gaza], understandings for a calming [of tensions] and quiet are being done,” he said.

“The strange paradox is that there are deals for a calming [there], while there is a daily decision and decree to squeeze us here,” he added.

For over a year, Egypt and other international parties have brokered various informal ceasefire understandings between Israel and terror groups in Gaza, including Hamas, which controls the coastal enclave.

The understandings have largely entailed Israel lifting restrictions on the movement of goods and people into and out of Gaza, in exchange for Hamas maintaining relative quiet in the border region between the coastal enclave and the Jewish state.

Hamas leaders Ismail Haniyeh and Yahya Sinwar in Gaza City, June 26, 2019. (Hassan Jedi/Flash90)

The PA has vehemently opposed them, arguing Hamas does not have the legitimacy to make deals with Israel.

Channel 12 reported on Sunday that Meir Ben-Shabbat, the head of the National Security Council, presented to the high-level security cabinet a proposal for additional ceasefire understandings with Hamas, without citing a source.

Meanwhile, the security cabinet announced on Sunday that Israel would withhold around NIS 149 million ($43 million) in taxes it collects on behalf of the Palestinians over their payments to wounded Palestinian attackers and the families of slain attackers.

Israel forcefully opposes the payments, arguing that they incentivize violent attacks against Israelis. The Ramallah-based Palestinian leadership contends that they seek to provide social welfare to injured Palestinians and Palestinian families who have lost a breadwinner.

Israel started to implement a new law in February 2019 that allows it to withhold the taxes that it gathers for the PA equivalent to the amount Israeli officials determine Ramallah pays security prisoners and their families as well as wounded attackers and the families of dead attackers.

In February, Israel said it would deduct approximately NIS 500 million ($144,578,030) from the tax transfers to the PA spread out over 12 months for its stipends to security prisoners, many of them convicted terrorists, and their families. At the time, Israeli authorities made no mention of funds they planned to withhold from the Palestinians for the salaries they give wounded attackers and the families of dead ones.

An official in the Defense Ministry, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Sunday’s announcement aimed to enforce the part of the law that Israel failed to do so earlier in 2019.

“We are seeking the full implementation of the law now,” the official said, noting funds would be deducted over the coming 12 months.

Hamas is a terror group that frequently issues threats against Israel, fires rockets at its territory and refuses to recognizes its existence. In contrast, the Ramallah-based Palestinian leadership coordinates security with Israel and recognizes its existence. Abbas has frequently said that he opposes violence and would like to negotiate an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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