Release of PA taxes said held up over electric bill dispute

After a promise to unblock funds, Israel and Palestinians still fighting over NIS 400 million ($100 million) for utilities

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

An Israel Electric Corporation employee working on an electric line. (Roni Schutzer/Flash90)
An Israel Electric Corporation employee working on an electric line. (Roni Schutzer/Flash90)

Four days after Israel announced it would stop withholding hundreds of millions of dollars in unpaid tax funds to the Palestinian Authority, the payment remained held up over a dispute regarding the size of the PA’s unpaid electric bill.

A Palestinian source said that the Israeli demand for electricity costs is far too high for the PA, Israel Radio reported on Tuesday. Multiple sources said the two sides are still NIS 400 million ($100 million) apart on their demands over the amount to be transferred.

PA and Israeli officials met Monday to discuss the details of the transfer, but were unable to come to an agreement.

The PA is scheduled to pay the salaries of 170,000 government employees next week, according to Israel Radio.

On Friday, Israel said it would release hundreds of millions of dollars in tax funds it has withheld from the PA as a punitive measure over its move to join the International Criminal Court (ICC).

PA President Mahmoud Abbas said Saturday he doubted Israel’s willingness to hand over the funds.

“They’ve announced they will release the money, but so far they have unlocked nothing,” Abbas told an Arab League summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.

“Maybe they will impose a thousand and one conditions before doing so and guaranteeing not to freeze the funds again.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said revenues accumulated over three months, frozen since January, would be transferred after normal deductions for services.

“They are collecting this money in our name, and charging a three percent service fee,” Abbas said Saturday.

“They collect $100 million and take $3 million. If they decide to deprive us of the funds by blocking them it still makes no difference to them,” he said.

Netanyahu’s office did not say whether Israel would resume the normal monthly payment of around $127 million in customs duties levied on goods destined for Palestinian markets that transit through Israeli ports.

Israel has not quantified the amount to be transferred, but did say it would deduct debts due for services such as electricity, water and medical care.

Israel’s move, which was welcomed by the United States, comes just ahead of the Palestinians formally becoming members of the ICC on Wednesday.

They will then be able to proceed with legal action against Israeli officials at the court based in The Hague.

The Palestinians have said they intend to pursue war crimes allegedly committed by Israeli during last summer’s war in Gaza, as well as Israel’s policy of building settlements on occupied Palestinian land.

“The foreign minister will travel to the ICC on April 1 to celebrate our commitment to the International Criminal Court,” Abbas said Saturday, recalling that the Palestinian initiative came “after we failed to prevent further colonization by Israel.”

AFP and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report. 

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