Amid reported plan to funnel PA money into Gaza, Smotrich insists: ‘Not one shekel’

Hard-right finance minister intimates he is willing to resign if tax transfers sent to Strip; Ben Gvir: Israel should be executing Hamas prisoners if hostages not released

Finance minister and head of the Religious Zionist party, Bezalel Smotrich leads a faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, December 18, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/ Flash90)
Finance minister and head of the Religious Zionist party, Bezalel Smotrich leads a faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, December 18, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/ Flash90)

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich warned on Monday that he would not allow the transfer of Palestinian tax funds to Gaza or to the families of Palestinian terrorists, intimating that he would resign from the government rather than permit such a transfer.

Smotrich was referring to reports of a deal ostensibly brokered by US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan to enable the Palestinian Authority to send funds to its employees in Gaza by allowing Israel to check the recipients of the funds.

Israel collects monthly tax revenues on Ramallah’s behalf on imports and exports, and transfers those funds to the PA, but has increasingly held off on some of the funds over various issues, chiefly Ramallah’s payment of stipends to terror convicts and the families of slain terrorists.

It has recently warned it will not allow the PA to transfer funds earmarked for services and salaries in the Gaza Strip, alleging the money could reach Hamas while Israel is at war with the terror group.

In November, the security cabinet voted to approve a partial transfer of tax funds, minus some $275 million designated by the PA for Gaza, as well as for stipends.

The PA refused to accept this partial transfer, leading to fears that it may collapse financially, potentially creating chaos in the West Bank.

Speaking at the weekly faction meeting of his far-right Religious-Zionism party, Smotrich mentioned a report on Sunday by Channel 12 news which said Israel had agreed to transfer the full funds, on condition that it would be able to check the list of recipients in Gaza to make sure the money did not reach Hamas.

The finance minister vowed not to allow “even one shekel” of the funds to be transferred to “Hamas Nazis” in Gaza, or to the families of terrorists from the West Bank and Gaza, and said he had told the prime minister he was “willing to pay the price if God forbid the government will capitulate to this pressure.”

“I want to say as clearly as possible, it will never happen… as long as I am finance minister of the State of Israel,” he said.

Meanwhile, National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, head of the ultranationalist Otzma Yehudit party, backed up his cabinet colleague’s position on withholding the tax funds at his party’s faction meeting. Ben Gvir also slammed his own government’s policy of allowing fuel and other humanitarian aid into Gaza during the war. And he lamented the failure to advance legislation to allow the death penalty for terrorists, suggesting that it would enable Israel to execute a captured member of Hamas’s Nukhba commando force — arrested during the October 7 attacks — for every day Hamas fails to release Israeli hostages it holds.

National Security Minister and Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben Gvir leads a faction meeting in the Knesset, December 18, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Families of hostages held in Gaza have railed against Ben Gvir over his focus on the issue, saying he is endangering their loved ones through his rhetoric and efforts.

Speaking at the Otzma Yehudit weekly faction meeting, Ben Gvir vociferously objected to the government’s decision to allow humanitarian aid into Gaza, declaring that “you don’t bring in 200 fuel trucks, you don’t transfer money to any official” during the war.

Immediately after Hamas’s October 7 attack on southern Israel — during which over 1,200 people were killed and more than 240 taken hostage — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged not to allow any aid into Gaza, essentially imposing a siege on the Hamas-run enclave.

Two weeks later, however, Israel began allowing some aid trucks into the Strip from Egypt, and just over a month into the war, Israel approved the entry of fuel tankers into Gaza for the first time, though Netanyahu initially had declared that “not one drop” would be allowed in, since it would be diverted by Hamas. It recently agreed to also start delivering goods once more through its own Kerem Shalom Crossing.

The changes have come at a time of mounting US pressure to ease the deteriorating humanitarian conditions in the Strip.

Asserting that Hamas is still undeterred after 73 days of war, Ben Gvir on Monday reiterated his call for capital punishment for terrorists and declared he will not remain in the coalition if the military offensive does not “continue at full strength.”

A convoy of trucks carrying fuel and aid drive in Gaza City’s Zeitoun district on November 25, 2023, on the second day of a temporary truce between Israel and Hamas. (Mahmud Hams / AFP)

And he said: “We do not have the freedom to move forward with the legislation for capital punishment for terrorists, which would have allowed us to create a simple equation: every day the hostages are not returned we would execute another Nukbha [terrorist].

“They shoot rockets from the humanitarian evacuation areas, they shoot at our soldiers, and we continue with humanitarian measures and humanitarian gestures. The time for a decision has come.”

“You don’t make pauses and don’t allow our enemies to set shocking conditions for the release of hostages,” he added, calling on Netanyahu to “go the way of Ben Gvir and not [war cabinet member Benny] Gantz.”

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