Israel froze NIS 500 million ($127 million) in Palestinian tax revenue Saturday in response to the Palestinian Authority’s application to join the International Criminal Court (ICC) earlier this week.
The decision to withhold the money was made during a special meeting convened Thursday by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to discuss the Israeli response to PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s unilateral move, Channel 10 reported.
The funds are taxes collected by Israel on Ramallah’s behalf. They were intended to be transferred into PA accounts on Friday.
“The funds for the month of December were supposed to be transferred on Friday, but it was decided to stop it as part of the response to the Palestinian move,” a senior Israeli official told Ha’aretz.
Israel threatened the PA that it would retaliate against its move to join the ICC and file a war crimes lawsuit against Israel. The latest attempt to join 20 international treaties was also condemned by the US, who said that the move hindered any chance at reaching a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.
A senior Palestinian official called Israel’s move “Israeli piracy.” PA chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said freezing the funds was a “war crime” and slammed Israel for what he called “collective punishment” against the Palestinians.
“If Israel thinks that through economic pressure it will succeed in diverting our approach to freedom and independence, then it is wrong,” Erekat said. “This money is not Israeli charity to the Palestinian people…This is the money of the Palestinian people and Israel is not a donor country.”
Energy and Water Minister Silvan Shalom called on Israel to use the frozen funds to pay the PA’s outstanding $4.8 billion in debt to Israel. The PA owes Israel over NIS 1.4 billion ($360 million) in unpaid electricity bills.
“Following the decision to freeze half a billion shekels in Palestinian tax money, I have asked that the funds be transferred to cover the Palestinian debt to the IEC, which continues to rise every month,” he wrote on Facebook.
“It is inconceivable that the people of Israel will pay the Palestinian debt and we will ensure that the Palestinians will pay their debt to the last shekel,” Shalom added.
The PA derives 95 percent of its electricity in Judea and Samaria and 75 percent of electricity in Gaza from Israel.