Hosting Meretz leader, Abbas lashes out at Israel for withholding tax revenues

Tamar Zandberg tells PA president peace is ‘the supreme interest of the State of Israel,’ should be the focus of upcoming elections

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

Meretz chairwoman Tamar Zandberg and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas meeting in Ramallah, on March 10, 2019. (Elad Malka)
Meretz chairwoman Tamar Zandberg and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas meeting in Ramallah, on March 10, 2019. (Elad Malka)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas chided Israel on Sunday for withholding tax revenues from his government over its policy of making payments to security prisoners and the families of dead terrorists.

Abbas made the statement in a meeting with Meretz chairwoman Tamar Zandberg and other members of the left-wing Israeli party at the PA presidential headquarters in Ramallah.

“We say to the Israeli government that is not your right to deduct our funds against our will,” Abbas said.

The security cabinet decided in February to approve gradually withholding NIS 502,697,000 million ($138 million) of tax revenues from the PA over the next year. The body made the decision in an effort to start implementing a new law that permits Israel to withhold taxes from the Palestinians over the payments they make to security prisoners, their families and those of slain attackers.

Israel collects taxes on behalf of Ramallah every month, and usually transfers them to the PA’s coffers. But outgoing PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah said in late February that the Jewish state withheld last month NIS 41,800,000 ($11,516,000) of the taxes it transferred to the Palestinians.

Hamdallah also stated that the Palestinians refused to receive any amount of tax funds from Israel in protest of the move.

Palestinian officials have said the Palestinians will not accept any of the taxes Israel gathers for the PA, if it does not transfer the full amount to Ramallah. The Jewish state has recently collected around $193 million in taxes for the PA on a monthly basis.

Abbas, however, said Sunday that even though “Israel is the cause of the harsh financial and economic crisis that the [Palestinian] Authority is experiencing,” the Palestinians will not back off their positions in support of “the two-state vision and fighting terror and violence.”

Meretz chairwoman Tamar Zandberg, Meretz members and Palestinian officials at the Palestinian Authority presidential headquarters in Ramallah on March 10, 2019. (Elad Malka)

If the PA follows through in not accepting the taxes for several months, it will likely face a major financial crisis. The taxes cover a significant portion of its budget and its employees’ salaries.

The PA president has long supported the two-state solution and ordered the PA security forces to crack down on Hamas, including its terror activities targeting Israelis in Israel and the West Bank.

For her part, Zandberg said she and the other Meretz members came to Ramallah to pass along “a message of peace.”

“Peace is the supreme interest of the State of Israel. It needs to be at the center of the elections and the agenda of the next government,” Zandberg said, referring to the upcoming national elections on April 9. “Peace will ensure Israel’s security and it is the interest of the two peoples. The path to peace is negotiating a two-state [solution].”

The last round of known peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians collapsed in May 2014. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Abbas have not met in the framework of negotiations since September 2010.

Meretz is one of a few Israeli parties that has emphasized its support for a two-state solution in its election campaign.

Abbas often hosts Meretz leaders and members in Ramallah. Several Palestinian officials sat alongside Abbas at Sunday’s meeting with Zandberg, including the PA president’s spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudeineh.

read more: