Israel threatening to send PA tax money straight to Gaza — Palestinian official

Saeb Erekat says Ramallah was told if it does not send the Strip all the money it is allocated, Israel will offset shortfall with tax revenues collected on PA’s behalf

Adam Rasgon is the Palestinian affairs reporter at The Times of Israel

Saeb Erekat speaks to journalists after a meeting between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Jordan's King Abdullah II, at the Royal Palace in Amman, Jordan, on January 29, 2018. (Khalil Mazraawi, Pool Photo via AP)
Saeb Erekat speaks to journalists after a meeting between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Jordan's King Abdullah II, at the Royal Palace in Amman, Jordan, on January 29, 2018. (Khalil Mazraawi, Pool Photo via AP)

Israel has told the Palestinian Authority that it could take tax revenues collected on Ramallah’s behalf and send it to Gaza to offset money Mahmoud Abbas’s government has threatened to withhold from the beleaguered Strip, a top Palestinian official said Monday.

In the past several months, PA President Mahmoud Abbas has suggested on many occasions that the Ramallah-based Palestinian leadership will cut all budgets it has allocated to Gaza, if Hamas does not hand over control of the territory to the PA.

Hamas has controlled Gaza since it ousted the Fatah-dominated PA from the territory in 2007.

“Last week, the Israeli side informed us that if we do not pay all funds allocated for the Gaza Strip, they will cut [money] from the taxes — they collect customs duties and taxes for us — and transfer them to Gaza,” top Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told a seminar in Ramallah.

Erekat did not say whether Israel had told the Palestinians to whom and how it would transfer funds to Gaza, which is ruled by Hamas, a terror group Israel has refused to recognize officially.

Asked about Erekat’s statement, the Coordinator for Government Activities in the Territories, the branch of the Defense Ministry responsible for liaising with the Palestinians, declined to comment.

A spokesperson in the Prime Minister’s Office did not respond to a request for comment.

Palestinian children carry water bottles in the al-Shati refugee camp in Gaza City on January 4, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / MOHAMMED ABED)

Israel collects sales, customs, and excise taxes on behalf of the Palestinians every month, and transfers them to the PA’s coffers.

The total value of the taxes Israel gathers every month for the PA amount to approximately $150-170 million, former PA Planning Minister Samir Abdullah said in a phone call.

The PA uses these taxes to pay for approximately half of its annual budget, he added.

Since April 2016, the PA has cut some of the budgets it has allocated for Gaza as a means of pressuring Hamas into giving up control, contributing to a dire humanitarian crisis in the Strip.

According to Abbas and Fatah Central Committee member Hussein al-Sheikh, however, the PA has continued to send $96 million monthly to Gaza.

Some of the PA budgets for Gaza include funds for electricity, healthcare, social welfare and employees’ salaries.

At the United Nations General Assembly in September, Abbas said the Palestinians will stop sending funds to Gaza, if Hamas does not give up control of the territory.

“We will not bear any responsibility if they insist on rejecting agreements,” he said, referring to a number of reconciliation deals including an agreement Egypt brokered between Hamas and Fatah in October 2017.

In the Egyptian-mediated deal, Hamas and Fatah agreed the PA would take full responsibility for Gaza in the same way it does for the West Bank. However, the rival parties failed to implement it.

Israel has recently been looking for ways to ease food, water and electricity shortages in the Strip as a means of lowering tensions that have led to near daily border clashes.

This included allowing Qatar to fund fuel shipments into Gaza to power the Strip’s power station and double the amount of daily electricity Gazans receive. The deal to allow in the Qatari fuel was made without Abbas’s approval, angering Ramallah.

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