A high-ranking Palestinian official insisted on Tuesday that the Palestinians cannot stop payments to security prisoners or the families of slain attackers.
He made the statement two days after Israel’s security cabinet met and approved withholding NIS 502,697,000 ($138 million) in taxes that Israel is slated to collect on the Palestinian Authority’s behalf.
The security cabinet made the decision in an effort to start implementing a new law that permits Israel to withhold taxes from Ramallah over payments it makes to security prisoners and the families of slain attackers, including terrorists.
“These payments are one of the most sensitive issues in Palestinian society,” the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told The Times of Israel. “If the PA were to get rid of them, it would be committing political suicide, especially considering the difficult political situation.”
Palestinian officials have condemned Israel for moving to withhold the half billion shekels, arguing it amounts to “piracy” of Palestinian funds.
Israeli officials have defended the security cabinet’s decision, arguing that the PA’s payments incentivize violence and terrorism.
Polls have found that the overwhelming majority of Palestinians oppose the PA suspending its payments to the security prisoners, including terrorists who have killed Israeli civilians.
A survey published in July 2017 by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research found that 91 percent of Palestinians were against stopping them.
The Palestinian official also accused the Israeli government of moving to withhold the funds for political purposes.
“Instead of trying to move the peace process forward, the Israeli government is raising this issue for political gain,” he said, noting reports that Israeli security officials have expressed opposition to withholding funds from the PA.
A spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declined to respond to the official’s comments.
Israeli security officials have long supported strengthening the PA and argued that initiatives to weaken it could destabilize the situation in the West Bank and detract from the ability of its security forces to fight terrorism.
The Palestinian official also said that Israel withholding the taxes could affect the PA’s ability to pay its employees their full salaries.
“The PA is in a very difficult economic situation. In comparison with 2013, it is receiving 70% less in foreign aid today,” he said. “Without all the taxes, I’m afraid the PA will not be able ensure our workers receive their full salaries.”
Some 140,000 Palestinians in the West Bank work for the PA, accounting for approximately one-third of Palestinian income in the territory.
Reuters reported that Palestinian officials said Israel currently collects and transfers NIS 803,282,580 ($222 million) to the PA every month.
Avi Dichter, the chair of the Knesset Defense Committee, has said Israel will spread out the withholding of the tax money over 12 months.
If Israel continues to collect a sum of taxes equivalent to that provided in the Reuters report, it will withhold approximately five percent of what it now transfers to the PA on a monthly basis.
However, Palestinian officials including Hussein al-Sheikh, a close confidant of PA President Mahmoud Abbas, have said they will not accept any of the tax money if Israel does not hand over the entire sum.