Israel Agrees to Release PA Tax Revenues Withheld Due to Unilateral Moves

Israel will released nearly $500 million in tax revenues it collected for the Palestinian Authority according to an agreement reached by the two sides, Bloomberg News reported Saturday.

Israel suspended the funds in January to protest the Palestinians’ decision to join the International Criminal Court. Palestinians have threatened to seek charges against Israeli leaders for military and settlement activities in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. …

Israel will transfer 1.85 billion shekels ($472 million) to the Palestinian Authority, according to the Israeli official.

Israel collects taxes and customs on behalf of the Palestinian Authority. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said after his electoral victory in March that Israel would release the revenue as a humanitarian gesture. Abbas initially refused to accept the funds, saying Israel had unilaterally decided on the amount to be transferred.

The agreement was reached between Major General Yoav (Poly) Mordechai, Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, and Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, after a series of meetings, the last of which took place on Friday.

Last month Israel agreed to a partial release of funds after deducting some money to offset the massive debts accumulated by the PA for electricity, water and medical services, but the PA rejected the proposal and insisted on full payment. The money that Israel will transfer to the PA will help pay the salaries of its employees.

Despite Palestinian actions that undermined the possibility of a peace agreement, an Israeli official told the newspaper Israel Hayom that Israel decided to transfer the delayed funds “out of responsibility to regional stability and humanitarian considerations in favor of the residents of the Palestinian Authority.”

An Israeli security official said that agreement on the transfer of funds was in addition to a number of other steps that Israel has recently taken to improve the welfare of the Palestinians. The official said, “We are not in a fight against the citizens of the Palestinian Authority. It is important to us that the PA residents will live comfortably and with dignity, and we are open to promote any suggestion that would help economic growth there,” he concluded.

Earlier this month Israel concluded an agreement with the PA to allow Palestinian security forces greater authority in a number of villages near Jerusalem.

The new United Nations special coordinator for the Middle East peace efforts, Nikolay Meladenov, welcomed the move by Israel as an important step “in the right direction.”

Peace talks brokered by the United States broke down last year when the Palestinians refused to respond to an American framework proposal and then made a unity agreement with the Gaza-based terrorist organization Hamas.

[Photo: Olivier Pacteau / Flickr ]