US warns Israeli sanctions against PA will ‘exacerbate tensions’

State Department says punitive measures by Jerusalem just as bad as ‘counterproductive’ Palestinian push for ICJ opinion on occupation

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

US President Joe Biden (L) is received by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem in the West Bank on July 15, 2022. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)
US President Joe Biden (L) is received by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem in the West Bank on July 15, 2022. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

US State Department spokesman Ned Price on Monday condemned the sanctions approved by the Israeli government against the Palestinian Authority over Ramallah’s successful effort to have the International Court of Justice weigh in on Israel’s conduct in the Palestinian territories.

Price referred to the sanctions imposed by Israel as a “unilateral response” that will “exacerbate tensions,” while noting that they were no less problematic in Washington’s eyes than the PA’s pursuit of an ICJ advisory opinion at the UN last month.

“This is part of the reason why we’ve opposed the Palestinian move when it comes to the ICJ, knowing that it would potentially only serve to increase tensions,” Price said, after being probed on the topic during the daily press briefing. “We believe [the Palestinian effort at the UN] was counterproductive, only taking the parties further away from the objective of a negotiated two-state solution.”

He added that Biden administration officials were discussing the issue with both Israeli and Palestinian officials privately.

The sanctions approved last Friday by Israel’s security cabinet included taking some of the tax revenues Israel collects on behalf of the PA and funneling them to Israeli victims of Palestinian terrorism; deducting from the revenues to offset payments the PA makes to Palestinian terrorists, attackers, security prisoners and their families; freezing Palestinian construction in much of the West Bank; and revoking the travel permits of senior Palestinian officials.

The Palestinian Authority prime minister, Mohammad Shtayyeh, warned in a rare interview with the Haaretz daily published Monday that the sanctions could spell the PA’s collapse.

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh, second left, visits the office of the al-Haq Human rights organization that was raided by Israel forces, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, August 18, 2022. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)

He also claimed that Israel was actively profiting from the conflict by charging a monthly commission of NIS 30 million ($8.6 million) deducted from payments for various services provided to the PA.

The security cabinet vote represented a departure from the policy of the previous government, which in several ways sought to strengthen the PA, fearing that its collapse would only boost more extreme Palestinian forces, such as Hamas. At the same time, prime ministers Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid would not meet with PA President Mahmoud Abbas, let alone hold negotiations toward a two-state solution with him.

Netanyahu, who has long boasted of his efforts to isolate the PA, has cobbled together the most right-wing government in Israeli history, made up of many lawmakers who support dismantling the PA and view it as a terror-inciting body. They do not share the view of the defense establishment, which stresses the importance of Israel’s security cooperation with the PA and has pushed successive governments to prevent its dissolution. Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich said Sunday that he has “no interest” in the PA continuing to exist.

The hardline stance is likely to be a source of tension in Israel’s ties with the US, given the latter’s support for improved Israeli-Palestinian ties. The Biden administration is also concerned about the new government’s plans to expand Israeli presence in the West Bank by building more settlements, legalizing wildcat Israeli outposts and stifling Palestinian expansion in Area C — the 60 percent of the West Bank where Israel is granted temporary security and civilian control under the Oslo Accords.

The Israeli sanctions decision came roughly one week after the UN General Assembly voted to adopt a resolution requesting that the ICJ submit a legal opinion determining whether Israel’s “occupation” of the Palestinians is permanent and recommending steps that should be taken if that is the case.

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