Top PLO official: Despite Israeli cuts, PA should keep accepting tax transfers

Azzam al-Ahmad says Palestinians shouldn’t ‘hurt’ themselves in responding to Jerusalem’s decision to withhold funds over payouts to families of dead attackers

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

Azzam al-Ahmad gives a press conference at a hotel in Cairo, August 13, 2014. (photo credit: AFP/Khaled Desouki)
Azzam al-Ahmad gives a press conference at a hotel in Cairo, August 13, 2014. (photo credit: AFP/Khaled Desouki)

A senior Palestinian official said that the Palestinians should continue to accept tax funds that Israel collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority even though the high-level security cabinet decided on Sunday to withhold NIS 150 million ($43 million) from Ramallah over its payments to wounded terrorists and the families of slain attackers.

After Israel announced it would freeze hundreds of millions of shekels in early 2019 over the PA’s payments to security prisoners, including terrorists, and their families, PA President Mahmoud Abbas declared that the Palestinians would not accept any taxes that the Jewish state gathers for them unless it transfers the full amount.

But in the ensuing months, the PA fell into a significant financial crisis and undertook a series of austerity measures including slashing the majority of its employees’ salaries. Finally in August, it accepted two billion shekels of the taxes from Israel even though Jerusalem continued to refuse to hand over the entire amount.

In early October, the PA accepted another large transfer of taxes from Israel. It has since been receiving the tax funds on a monthly basis. At that time, Israel also refused to transfer all of the funds.

“Israel absolutely does not have the right to take our funds and it must return them to us,” Azzam al-Ahmad, a member of both the PLO Executive Committee and the Fatah Central Committee, told The Times of Israel on Wednesday. “But we should not hurt ourselves in responding to this latest decision by Israel. So we should continue to accept the funds.”

Israel started to implement a new law in February 2019 to withhold the taxes it gathers for the PA, an amount determined by what Israeli officials say Ramallah pays its security prisoners and their families, as well as wounded terrorists and the families of Palestinians killed in confrontations with Israelis.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (6th-right) walks away after posing for a group photograph with members of the new Palestinian Authority government in the West Bank city of Ramallah on April 13, 2019. (Abbas Momani/AFP)

Israel forcefully opposes the payments, arguing that they incentivize violent attacks against Israelis. The Ramallah-based Palestinian leadership contends that it seeks to provide social welfare to Palestinian families and make up for what it describes as an unfair military justice system.

In February 2019, Israel said it would deduct approximately NIS 500 million ($144,578,030) from the tax transfers to the PA spread out over 12 months for its stipends to security prisoners and their families. At the time, Israeli authorities made no mention of the funds they planned to withhold over the stipends.

An official in the Defense Ministry, who spoke on condition of anonymity earlier this week, said Sunday’s announcement regarding the additional NIS 150 million aimed to enforce the part of the law that Israel failed to implement earlier in 2019.

“We are seeking the full implementation of the law now,” the official said, noting that funds would be deducted over the year.

Ahmad said that the PLO Executive Committee would discuss the matter at its upcoming meeting on January 5 and noted that he was encouraged by voices in Israel against withholding the funds.

“When we see voices against taking such measures against us, we are happy,” he said.

Meanwhile, Channel 13 reported on Sunday that Shin Bet security service chief Nadav Argaman had warned the security cabinet that deciding to withhold the additional NIS 150 million would likely damage Israel’s ties with the PA and cause discontent.

Senior PA official Hussein al-Sheikh tweeted on Wednesday that he met Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon on Tuesday and told him the PA would continue to pay the families of security prisoners and dead attackers.

He also said that he told Kahlon Israel’s “hostile policy” would lead to “an explosion.”

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