Smotrich to PM: Bring down PA, annex West Bank, if it keeps seeking UN state, war arrests

Far-right finance minister vows to halt tax transfers to Palestinian Authority if it wins unilateral statehood or ICC arrest warrants against Israeli leaders, soldiers for war in Gaza

File - Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich in Jerusalem, April 21, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)
File - Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich in Jerusalem, April 21, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich issued a warning Thursday that if the Palestinian Authority continues with its efforts for international recognition of a state and for what he said was its bid to obtain international arrest warrants against Israelis over the war in Gaza, he will cut off the transfer of funds to the Palestinian administrative body.

In a letter sent to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and widely reported by Hebrew media, Smotrich wrote that the PA is an immediate danger to Israel and called on the premier to annex the West Bank if the Palestinians don’t desist from their actions.

The letter came amid reported concern among Israeli officials over the prospect of the International Criminal Court in The Hague issuing arrest warrants against Netanyahu and other Israeli political and military leaders for alleged breaches of international law in Gaza during the ongoing war against terror group Hamas.

In addition, last week, the United States needed to veto a United Nations Security Council resolution calling to recognize the Palestinians as a full UN member state.

“As soon as an arrest warrant of any kind is issued by the prosecutor of The Hague Tribunal against an Israeli citizen or soldier as part of the case that the PA is handling against Israel, and/or a unilateral decision is made in the General Assembly to recognize a Palestinian state, I will unilaterally and immediately stop the transfer” of funds to the Palestinian Authority, and order the cancellation of the indemnity given to the Israeli cross-fund banks that transfer funds to banks in Judea and Samaria,” Smotrich wrote, referring to the West Bank by its biblical names. Such warrants, he said, would be “a dangerous precedent-setting step that would constitute crossing a red line.”

Smotrich was referring to hundreds of millions of shekels in Palestinian tax revenue, which Israel collects for the PA, that he had previously held up against the background of the Gaza war. The move helped cause a financial crisis in the PA until an agreement was eventually reached to transfer the funds via Norway as a way to ensure none are diverted to the Gaza Strip.

A demonstrator poses with a Palestinian flag outside the International Criminal Court (ICC) during a rally urging the court to prosecute Israel for alleged war crimes in The Hague, Netherlands, November 29, 2019. (Peter Dejong/AP)

Far-right Smortich demanded that Netanyahu “openly and unequivocally announce” that if the PA continues its activities along those lines, “Israel will sever all ties with the Palestinian Authority and bring about its immediate fall and immediately and unilaterally assert its sovereignty” over all the West Bank.

“Unilateral measures will be met with unilateral measures,” he declared.

Smotrich further accused that the PA “draws encouragement and legitimacy for its actions from the Biden administration’s turning its back on Israel in legal contexts through the imposition of sanctions on the settlers, and apparently also on the IDF, as well as from the harsh tones of the leaders of European countries against Israel in the context of the war in Gaza.”

The letter came the day after the US State Department denounced as “dangerous and reckless” Smotrich’s reported plans to legalize dozens of currently illegal West Bank settlement outposts. Washington has also issued sanctions against extremist settlers suspected of violence against Palestinians, and recent reports have said that the US may also sanction certain controversial units in the Israeli army over alleged abuse of Palestinians.

Last week, Channel 12 news reported that three ministers and several government legal experts held an “emergency discussion” with Netanyahu at the Prime Minister’s Office about how to fend off the potential ICC arrest warrants.

The meeting was convened after Jerusalem received messages indicating that such warrants could be issued in the near future, the report said, without citing any sources.

Palestinians walk past damaged buildings in Khan Yunis in the Gaza Strip on April 8, 2024. (AFP)

Norway on February 18 said it had agreed to assist in the transfer of funds earmarked for the PA that were collected by Israel, but withheld over Jerusalem’s refusal to transfer money destined for Gaza following Hamas’s October 7 terror onslaught.

Israel argued the portion of the funds that Ramallah uses to pay for services and employees in Gaza — roughly NIS 260 million ($73 million) monthly — could wind up in the hands of Hamas, the terror group it has vowed to eliminate.

The first transfer of funds came at the end of February.

Earlier that month, Palestinian representatives at the International Court of Justice accused Jerusalem of creating a permanent and illegal occupation in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and of establishing a system of apartheid in its treatment of the Palestinians.

The proceedings were the first of six days of hearings in The Hague over the UN General Assembly’s request for an advisory opinion by the ICJ on the “legal consequences” of Israel’s 56-year rule in the territories.

War erupted with Hamas’s October 7 onslaught on southern Israel, when terrorists murdered some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and kidnapped 253 men, women and children of all ages.

Israel responded with a military offensive to destroy Hamas and free the hostages, of whom 129 remain in captivity.

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