Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman on Wednesday took aim at Mahmoud Abbas, accusing the Palestinian Authority leader of exacerbating the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip by starving the enclave of funds.
“Abu Mazen is the problem,” Liberman wrote on Twitter, using the PA leader’s Arabic nickname.
Specifically, Liberman blamed the PA’s policy of paying salaries to Palestinian prisoners convicted of terrorism, as well as its freezing of salaries for tens of thousands of public employees in Gaza.
“As he prevents the [payment of] salaries for thousands of officials in Gaza during the month of Ramadan and blocks every international attempt to inject money that would ease the situation in Gaza, he pays NIS 100 million ($27.4 million) in salaries every month to terrorists and murderers,” added Liberman, a frequent Abbas critic.
His tweet came as the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee gave its approval to legislation allowing Israel to deduct the monetary equivalent of the payments from taxes it collects on the PA’s behalf, setting up the bill for the final plenary vote it needs to become law.
“The bill that we initiated and approved in the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee is a clear message,” said Liberman. “No more.”
The measure, which would cut hundreds of millions of shekels from tax revenues transferred to the PA, is similar to a measure recently passed in the US, known as the Taylor Force Act, withholding funding to the PA over stipends to terrorists and their families.
According to the Defense Ministry, the PA in 2017 paid NIS 687 million ($198 million) to the so-called “martyrs’ families fund” and NIS 550 million ($160 million) to the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club — some 7 percent of its overall budget.
Liberman’s broadside at Abbas came as Britain’s Prince William visited Ramallah, where Abbas assured him that “The Palestinian side is committed to the peace process with the Israelis, so both states could live peacefully together within the borders of 1967.”
The defense minister’s comments also came amid international efforts to enlist funds to alleviate the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip, which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has blamed for fueling deadly Hamas-led clashes on the enclave’s border with Israel.
Aides to Abbas, whose Fatah party has been at loggerheads with Hamas since the terror group violently took over Gaza in 2007, have spoken out against the aid drive, claiming it is an attempt to divide the Strip from the West Bank, where the internationally recognized PA is based.
Adding to the myriad problems in Gaza, which include a lack of electricity, clean water and proper sewage treatment, Abbas has taken punitive steps toward the enclave as part of his feud with Hamas, among them the freezing of salaries for PA employees in the Strip.
Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.