The Palestinian Authority will not go back on its demands for an International Criminal Court investigation into war crimes allegedly committed by Israel, despite the fact that the Israeli government offered to return hundreds of millions of dollars in Palestinian tax revenues in exchange for dropping the lawsuits, PA President Mahmoud Abbas said Wednesday.
“The International Criminal Court is the only place where we can raise complaints about the occupation,” Abbas said at a meeting of the Central Council of the Palestine Liberation Organization. “They told us that if we do not go to The Hague they will return us the money. We are against barter in return for us not appealing to the court,” he said.
“How are they allowed to take away our money? Are we dealing with a state or with a gangster?” Abbas added, according to Reuters.
Earlier this year, Israel withheld tax transfers to the cash-strapped Abbas government after the Palestinians joined the ICC. According to Abbas, Israel has so far withheld some $1.8 billion in Palestinian tax revenues.
Abbas also warned that the status quo of occupation in the West Bank is a provocation and cannot continue, the official WAFA news agency reported. He said Israel had eroded the authority of his self-rule government in the West Bank to the point where it has “no real power here over anything.”
Abbas asked the central council, the highest governing body of the Palestinians, to review interim agreements with Israel that created his autonomy government in the 1990s. The request is likely intended as a warning to Israel at a time of heightened tensions, hinting at a potential dissolution of the PA.
Israel’s Prime Minister’s Office declined comment.
In the central council meeting, Abbas stated he was willing to work with whichever party wins the upcoming Israeli elections and that achieving peace is central to regional stability.
Israel is scheduled to hold elections on March 17 and current opinion polls show the two leading contenders, the center-right Likud, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and center-left Zionist Union, led by opposition head Isaac Herzog, as being within two seats of each other, but with neither having an absolute majority.
He said the Arab Peace Initiative would be the best framework for peace talks.
“Now is the time for Israel to wake up from its sleep … the ball is in its court,” Abbas said.
At the gathering, Abbas also listed recent developments and advances toward Palestinian statehood, including the recognition of an independent state by several European parliaments, among them Britain, Sweden, Spain and Luxemburg.