Israel says it approved economic gestures for Palestinians following talks with US

Senior diplomatic official says government to attend to fees at Allenby crossing, lower fuel tax, ease imports after dialogue with Biden officials ahead of sensitive Ramadan month

File - people arrive on the Jordanian side of the Allenby Bridge crossing between the West Bank and Jordan on July 19, 2022. (Khalil Mazraawi/AFP)
File - people arrive on the Jordanian side of the Allenby Bridge crossing between the West Bank and Jordan on July 19, 2022. (Khalil Mazraawi/AFP)

Israel has approved three minor economic-related measures for the Palestinians ahead of the holy Muslim month of Ramadan that begins next month, according to a statement sent to The Times of Israel by a senior Israeli diplomatic official.

The statement was issued as frustration in Washington appeared to peak after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government announced that it would be legalizing nine wildcat outposts and advancing plans for some 10,000 new settlement homes in the West Bank — the largest package ever to be authorized in one sitting.

The statement, granted on condition of anonymity, said the high-level security cabinet had authorized Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant to implement the measures following talks with the Biden administration.

The steps appeared to have been pulled from a list that the Palestinian Authority had submitted to Israel long ago and on which the US Embassy in Jerusalem routinely engages with Israel, encouraging it to implement the measures, a US official said.

The diplomatic official said the first measure would be the “regulation” of fees at the Allenby border crossing between the West Bank and Jordan, which is used primarily by Palestinians, since they are barred from using Ben Gurion Airport and are not allowed to build an airport of their own.

Asked what was meant by “regulation,” the official declined to elaborate. The PA has long lamented the NIS 190 ($54) fee that Palestinians are required to pay at the Allenby crossing, in addition to the fee they have to pay on the Jordanian side, and have pushed for the toll at Allenby to be equivalent to the fee at the Sheikh Hussein crossing in the northern West Bank, which currently stands at NIS 109 ($31).

The US has been pushing Israel to operate Allenby 24/7. Israel has agreed to begin keeping the crossing open at all hours during the week, starting in April.

The second step approved by the security cabinet was the lowering of the VAT tax that Israel charges the Palestinian Authority for the fuel that it transfers to Ramallah. No information was provided regarding the extent of the price drop.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) holds a joint press conference with then-US vice president Joe Biden at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, March 9, 2016. (Amit Shabi/Pool)

The security cabinet also agreed to update the Economy Ministry’s list of goods allowed to be imported to the Palestinians. The PA has long pushed for updating the 1994 Paris Protocols that regulated the economic relationship between Jerusalem and Ramallah. For years, the PA requested that the list of tax-free imported goods be expanded, along with the list of countries with whom the Palestinians can trade without incurring extra fees.

Successive US administrations have pressed Israel to do more to improve Palestinian livelihood, given that the lack of a sovereign Palestinian entity forces Ramallah’s economy to be heavily reliant on Israel.

During the previous Israeli government, the Biden administration had an easier time coaxing measures for the Palestinians, such as securing thousands of work permits, hundreds of building permits and the regulation of thousands of undocumented Palestinians. The new hardline Netanyahu-led government is far more hostile to the PA and may suffice with the more modest measures that the official said on Wednesday the cabinet had approved.

On their recent visits to Jerusalem, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken implored Israeli officials to take steps to lower tensions ahead of Ramadan, identifying the month as a possible accelerant for a further explosion in tensions, as has proven to be the case in the past, US and Israeli officials told The Times of Israel.

Netanyahu has been under international pressure to tone down the government’s hardline policies toward the Palestinians in an effort to calm down the security situation in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, while also coming under pressure from his far-right allies to take harsher measures in response to the ongoing terror wave.

A series of Palestinian attacks has killed 11 Israelis in recent weeks, and daily raids by Israeli troops that have seen 48 Palestinians killed — most, but not all, while committing or attempting to commit attacks — have helped inflame tensions ahead of Ramadan.

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