Israel advances bill cutting Palestinian funding over ‘terror’

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C), Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman (R), and Chief of Staff Lt. General Gadi Eizenkot meet in Tel Aviv, Israel. (File photo: Reuters)
Updated 19 February 2018
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Israel advances bill cutting Palestinian funding over ‘terror’

JERUSALEM: Ministers Sunday greenlighted a bill allowing Israel to withhold tax monies it collects for the Palestinian Authority by the same amount as stipends that the PA pays to jailed militants.
Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, whose ministry drafted the bill, welcomed the vote in a ministerial committee, the first step toward sending it to parliament to be passed into law.
“Soon there will be an end to this theater of absurd,” he wrote in Hebrew on Twitter, adding that the money confiscated would be used “to prevent terror and compensate victims.”
Israel annually collects around $127 million in customs duties levied on goods destined for Palestinian markets that transit through Israeli ports monthly and then transfers it to the PA.
It has withheld payment in the past, notably in response to Palestinian admission in 2011 to the UN cultural agency UNESCO as a full member.
The Israeli move comes as the US Senate considers a bill approved by the House of Representatives to withhold aid to the PA if it does not stop the controversial practice of so-called martyr payments to families of Palestinians convicted of terrorist attacks.
Republican and Democratic US lawmakers alike have warned that the payments incentivise violence and serve as a sticking point in the Middle East peace process.
According to the Israeli bill, Lieberman will present an annual report detailing payments to “terror activists” and their families granted by the Palestinian Authority,” his office said.
“Based on the report, the sum will be deducted from payments handed from Israel to the Palestinian Authority.”
The bill will now face a series of parliamentary debates and votes before being finalized.
The Palestinian government slammed the move, calling it “piracy and theft” as well as a breach of international law, official news agency WAFA said.
The American legislation, called the Taylor Force Act, is named after a US military veteran and graduate student, age 28, who was killed in a 2016 attack while he was visiting Israel. The attacker, a Palestinian, was killed by police.


Tunisia’s premier unlikely to push reform as polls loom

Chahed has gathered enough support in Parliament to stave off a possible vote of no confidence. (Reuters)
Updated 22 September 2018
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Tunisia’s premier unlikely to push reform as polls loom

  • By surviving for more than two years, Chahed has become the longest-serving of Tunisia’s nine prime ministers since the Arab Spring in 2011
  • Western partners see him as the best guarantee of stability in an infant democracy that they are desperate to shore up

Tunisian Prime Minister Youssef Chahed has survived attempts by his own party and unions to force him out but, with elections looming, looks less and less able to enact the economic reforms that have so far secured IMF support for an ailing economy.

Last week, the Nidaa Tounes party suspended Chahed after a campaign by the party chairman, who is the son of President Beji Caid Essebsi.

Chahed has gathered enough support in Parliament to stave off a possible vote of no confidence by working with the co-ruling Islamist Ennahda party and a number of other lawmakers including 10 Nidaa Tounes rebels. But his political capital is now badly depleted.

By surviving for more than two years, Chahed has become the longest-serving of Tunisia’s nine prime ministers since the Arab Spring in 2011.

In that time, he has pushed through austerity measures and structural reforms such as cutting fuel subsidies that have helped to underpin a $2.8 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other financial support.

Western partners see him as the best guarantee of stability in an infant democracy that they are desperate to shore up, not least as a bulwark against extremism.

Yet the economy, and living standards, continue to suffer: inflation and unemployment are at record levels, and goods such as medicines or even staples such as milk are often in short supply, or simply unaffordable to many.

And in recent months, the 43-year old former agronomist’s main focus has been to hold on to his job as his party starts to look to its ratings ahead of presidential and parliamentary polls in a year’s time.

The breathing space he has won is at best temporary; while propping him up for now, Ennahda says it will not back him to be prime minister again after the elections.

And, more pressingly, the powerful UGTT labor union on Thursday called a public sector strike for Oct. 24 to protest against Chahed’s privatization plans.

This month, the government once more raised petrol and electricity prices to secure the next tranche of loans, worth $250 million, which the IMF is expected to approve next week.

But the IMF also wants it to cut a public wage bill that takes up 15 percent of GDP, one of the world’s highest rates.