Israel will release to the Palestinian Authority tax funds it collects on its behalf and which it withheld as punishment for the PA’s move to join the International Criminal Court, the Prime Minister’s Office said Friday.
“Tax revenues that have been accumulated through February will be transferred, after payments for services to the Palestinian population have been deducted, including electricity, water and hospital bills,” a statement said.
Israel froze the transfer on January 2, after the Palestinians moved to join the ICC, where they would be able to sue Israeli officials.
The decision comes 10 days after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was reelected and subsequently chosen to form the next government.
According to the statement, the decision to release the funds was based on “humanitarian concerns and in overall consideration of Israel’s interests at this time,” among other factors.
“Given the deteriorating situation in the Middle East, one must act responsibly and with due consideration alongside a determined struggle against extremist elements,” it quoted Netanyahu as saying.
Every month, Israel transfers to the PA around $127 million in customs duties levied on goods destined for Palestinian markets that transit through Israeli ports. Excluding foreign aid, these revenues make up around two-thirds of the authority’s annual budget.
World powers had called on Israel to release the funds, while a senior Palestinian official said withholding the money was an Israeli ploy aimed at collapsing the Palestinian Authority.
Officials in the PA have said the freeze has created a massive budget shortfall. Since the tax freeze, PA workers have only received some 60 percent of their monthly salaries, according to the Ynet news website.
Jerusalem is currently attempting to ease tensions in the West Bank in an effort to avoid an escalation of violence in the region.
The Israel Defense Forces is taking a series of measures to prevent an escalation of violence in the West Bank, including holding large-scale surprise drills and easing entry restrictions on Palestinians, as some officials warn the dead-end in peace talks could lead to new fighting.
An unnamed military source indicated that an explosive confrontation in the region — taking into account the election results — was possible, but stressed that the army and the Palestinian Authority were engaged in various preemptive measures to stymie the eruption of a Third Intifada, the army weekly Bamahane reported.
“As of today, the Palestinian front has, without a doubt, the highest potential of explosiveness,” the source said. “There is the expectation things will change for the Palestinians after the elections. The result of the election can raise harsh responses on both sides of the political map, in both directions.”
In light of the threat of an escalation, the army is avoiding clashes with Palestinian protesters and unnecessary casualties, easing traffic restrictions for West Bank drivers, removing certain roadblocks, and granting more entry permits to Palestinians into Israel, “in order not to lose the hold on the area,” the military representative said.
The army also received approval to give another 10,000 entry permits into Israel for Palestinian laborers.
The IDF and the PA continue to cooperate in carrying out raids against Hamas terror cells, something that happens on “a daily basis,” the officer said. The PA has threatened repeatedly to cut off security cooperation with Israel, but has yet to do so.
Worries of a Third Intifada reached an apex in late 2014, as tensions over the Temple Mount boiled over into a series of Palestinian attacks and an Israeli crackdown in Jerusalem and parts of the West Bank.
The tensions died down however, giving way to several months of shaky calm.