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Israeli sanctions will lead to Palestinian Authority’s collapse, warns PM Shtayyeh

In a rare interview with a Hebrew outlet, politician defends Ramallah’s successful UN initiative, saying Palestinians ‘have a right to complain,’ urges international assistance

Tobias (Toby) Siegal is a breaking news editor and contributor to The Times of Israel.

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh greets European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in the West Bank city of Ramallah, June 14, 2022. (Flash90)
Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh greets European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in the West Bank city of Ramallah, June 14, 2022. (Flash90)

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh has warned that a series of sanctions approved last week by the security cabinet against Ramallah will usher in the PA’s collapse.

In a rare interview with the Israeli daily Haaretz, published Monday, Shtayyeh defended Ramallah’s move at the United Nations to have the International Court of Justice draft a legal opinion regarding Israel’s conduct in the West Bank and Gaza — a step Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu referred to as “an extreme anti-Israel” measure.

The Palestinians “have a right to complain to the world about the occupation,” he told Haaretz. He further accused Israel of “profiting from the occupation.”

The successful Palestinian initiative in the UN General Assembly was cited by Israel’s new hardline government as the reason for a series of sanctions against the PA, including seizing NIS 139 million ($39 million) in tax revenues Israel collects on behalf of the PA and channeling them to Israeli victims of Palestinian terrorism instead.

The Palestinian Authority premier called the measure “another nail in the [Palestinian] Authority’s coffin,” if “the international community, with an emphasis on the administration in Washington and Arab countries,” failed to intervene immediately.

He said the PA was not receiving regular funding from the United States and that the money wired from the European Union was only meant for infrastructure.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L), Tzachi Braverman (2nd L) National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir (2R) and Environmental Protection Minister Idit Silman (R) at a cabinet meeting on January 3, 2023 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Shtayyeh also criticized the new government, widely regarded as Israel’s most right-wing ever, for isolating the PA.

“Previous Israeli governments tried to finish off the prospect of a two-state solution, while the current government is also fighting the PA itself,” he charged.

Netanyahu has long boasted of his efforts to isolate the PA. While Shtayyeh has made repeated similar remarks in the past about the imminent collapse of the PA, this time the Israeli government is composed of many lawmakers who openly support the PA’s closure, viewing it as a terror-inciting body.

They do not share the view of the defense establishment, which stresses the importance of Israel’s security cooperation with the PA to prevent more extreme elements from gaining power, and has pushed successive governments to prevent its dissolution.

“We’re reading the situation very clearly,” Shtayyeh said. “Increasing construction in settlements alongside disconnecting Jerusalem from the West Bank, annexing Area C territory and now crushing the PA — that’s the plan being carried out by the Israeli government.” Area C is the approximately 60% of the West Bank with full Israeli security and civil control, where all the settlements are located and Palestinian development is very limited.

In coalition agreements between Netanyahu’s Likud party and the far-right Religious Zionism party, the prime minister agreed to advance the annexation of West Bank land. The commitment was vaguely worded, however, enabling Netanyahu to make no movement on the issue if he so chooses.

Religious Zionism leader Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich has long advocated for annexing large parts of the West Bank, massively expanding settlement construction, legalizing illegal Israeli outposts and demolishing wildcat Palestinian construction in Area C.

In a press conference Sunday, Smotrich said he had “no interest” in the continued existence of the PA.

While serving as premier in 2020, Netanyahu pushed to annex some 30 percent of the West Bank, but later shelved the plan under pressure from the administration of then-US president Donald Trump, instead reaching a deal to normalize diplomatic relations with the United Arab Emirates.

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich holds a press conference with bereaved families at the Finance Ministry in Jerusalem, January 8, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Addressing the claim that the Palestinian campaign in the UN was unilateral, Shtayyeh said: “The entire occupation is unilateral and construction in [Jewish] settlements in unilateral, it’s all unilateral. But if we turn to the UN and the international community then it’s wrong and unilateral?”

The Palestinian leader also claimed that Israel was actively profiting from the conflict by charging a monthly commission of NIS 30 million ($8.6 million) deducted from payments for various services provided to the PA.

“Israel sells everything to us, including sewage treatment, electricity and drinking water, and it basically profits from the entire mechanism,” Shtayyeh said.

He said the PA would turn to member states of the Arab League, the European Union and the Biden administration in a plea for financial assistance and to prevent the Israeli attempt “to crush the two-state solution.”

“The Palestinians aren’t going anywhere,” he declared.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report. 

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