Israel to withhold $138 mln from Palestinians over prisoner payments

Families of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails hold their pictures during a recent protest. (Reuters)
Updated 18 February 2019

Israel to withhold $138 mln from Palestinians over prisoner payments

JERUSALEM: Israel said its security cabinet on Sunday decided to withhold $138 million (122 million euros) in tax transfers to the Palestinian Authority over its payments to prisoners jailed for attacks on Israelis.
A statement from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said the withheld cash would be equal to that paid by the PA last year to “terrorists imprisoned in Israel, to their families and to released prisoners.”
Israel alleges the payments encourage further violence.
The PA says the payments are a form of welfare to the families who have lost their main breadwinner and denies it is seeking to encourage violence.
Many Palestinians view prisoners and those killed while carrying out attacks as heroes in their conflict with Israel. Palestinian leaders often venerate them as martyrs.
Senior Palestine Liberation Organization official Ahmed Majdalani accused Israel and the United States, which has cut hundreds of millions of dollars in Palestinian aid, of an attempt at blackmail.
US President Donald Trump’s White House is expected to release its long-awaited peace plan later this year that the Palestinians believe will be blatantly biased in favor of Israel.
The Palestinians cut off contact with the White House after Trump’s 2017 declaration of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
“The occupation government is seeking to destroy the national authority in partnership with the US administration of Donald Trump,” Majdalani said in a statement.
The move to withhold the money comes in response to an Israeli law passed last year allowing it to do so.
Israel collects around $127 million a month in customs duties levied on goods destined for Palestinian markets that transit through Israeli ports, and then transfers the money to the PA.
Netanyahu is running in an election scheduled for April 9, and has been seeking to shore up his security credentials in the eyes of voters ahead of polling day.
Earlier Sunday, Netanyahu said “today I will submit for cabinet approval the (legislation on) deducting of the terrorists’ salaries from the Palestinian Authority funds.”
“Security officials will brief the cabinet on the scope of the funds. This is an important law which we have advanced, and today we will pass it exactly as I promised.”
The $138 million will likely be deducted incrementally over a 12-month period, according to local media reports.
Sponsors of the July law on Palestinian funds wrote at the time that the PA paid around $330 million a year to prisoners and their families, or seven percent of its budget.
It was not clear what caused the reduction in the amount.
The Palestinians have already facing a cut of more than $500 million in annual aid by Trump’s administration, mostly to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees.
The Palestinian Authority also said in January it will refuse all further US government aid for fear of lawsuits over alleged support for terrorism due to a recently passed US law.
Israel has withheld payments in the past, notably in response to the Palestinians’ 2011 admission to the UN cultural agency UNESCO as a full member.
The PA, which has limited sovereignty in parts of the occupied West Bank, relies heavily on outside financial aid.


Vandals damage cars in Arab neighborhood of east Jerusalem

Updated 2 min 2 sec ago

Vandals damage cars in Arab neighborhood of east Jerusalem

  • Masked suspects operated under the cover of darkness to vandalize the cars in east Jerusalem’s Shuafat neighborhood
  • The graffiti included the phrases “When Jews are stabbed, we aren’t silent”

JERUSALEM: Vandals slashed the tires of over 160 vehicles and sprayed slogans such as “Arabs=enemies” in a Palestinian neighborhood of Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, Israeli police said Monday. Elsewhere, Palestinian residents of the volatile West Bank city of Hebron staged a general strike to protest the construction of a new Jewish settlement there.
Masked suspects operated under the cover of darkness to vandalize the cars in east Jerusalem’s Shuafat neighborhood and spray-painted Hebrew graffiti on a nearby wall, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said. He said the authorities were treating the incident as criminal with “nationalistic motives.”
Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion condemned the “hate crime” and called upon the police “to find the criminals as fast as possible and bring them to justice.”
The graffiti included the phrases “When Jews are stabbed, we aren’t silent,” and “There is no place in the land for enemies.”
Hard-line nationalist Israelis have been known to execute so-called “price tag” attacks against Palestinians in response to Palestinian militant attacks or perceived efforts by Israeli authorities to limit settlement expansion.
It was unclear what motivated Monday’s incident.
In Hebron, the West Bank’s largest city, Palestinian shops, schools and businesses were shuttered for the one-day strike. Some youngsters hurled stones at Israeli military patrols, and soldiers fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the crowds.
Israel’s new defense minister, Naftali Bennett, presented his plan for a new settlement there early this month. Bennett, a longtime supporter of the West Bank settlement movement, said his plan will double the Jewish population of Hebron.
Hebron is frequent flashpoint of violence. Hundreds of hard-line Jewish settlers guarded by thousands of soldiers live in the heart of the city, which has a population of over 200,000 Palestinians.
Palestinian Mayor Tayseer Abu Sneineh said the city has formed a legal team to challenge the decision in Israeli courts.
Israel captured the West Bank and east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war and quickly began settling the newly conquered territory.
Over the past five decades, Israel, citing security needs, has established a military bureaucracy in the West Bank that enforces movement restrictions on Palestinians through a complex permit system. Some 600,000 Israelis now live in settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
The US announced a new American doctrine last month that does not consider Israeli settlements a violation of international law. It was the latest in a string of diplomatic gifts by the Trump administration to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.