Palestinian Authority cuts back wages in tax, prisoner dispute with Israel

Norwegian Foreign Minister Ine Marie Eriksen Soreide attends a joint press conference with her Palestinian counterpart Riyad al-Maliki in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on March 10, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 10 March 2019

Palestinian Authority cuts back wages in tax, prisoner dispute with Israel

  • Israel cut tax payments to PA over prisoner stipends
  • PA then refused to accept any Israeli transfers

RAMALLAH: The Palestinian Authority is scaling back wages paid to its employees in response to a cash crunch deepened by a dispute with Israel over payments to families of militants in Israeli jails, it said on Sunday.
In February, Israel announced it was deducting five percent of the revenues it transfers monthly to the Palestinian Authority (PA) from tax collected on imports that reach the occupied West Bank and Hamas-run Gaza Strip via Israeli ports.
Israel said the sum represented the amount the PA pays to families of Palestinians jailed in Israel or killed while carrying out attacks or other security offenses.
Palestinians see their slain and jailed as heroes of a national struggle but Israeli and US officials say the stipends fan Palestinian violence and are scaled so relatives of prisoners serving longer sentences receive larger payments.
After Israel’s deduction announcement, Palestinian President Mahoud Abbas said the PA would not accept any of the tax revenues, which totalled 700 million shekels ($193 million) in January and account for about half of the authority’s budget.
As a result, Palestinian Finance Minister Shukri Bishara said the PA would pay full salaries — which had been due on March 1 — only to its lowest-earning employees, or the 40 percent of its workforce that takes home 2,000 shekels ($550) or less a month.
Civil servants earning more than that, including cabinet ministers, will have their wages cut by half, he told a news conference.
However, Bishara said prisoners’ families will continue to be paid their full allocations.
“No force on earth can alter that,” he told a news conference.
Bishara said the PA will have to take bank loans of between $50 million to $60 million for the coming five to six months to weather the crisis.
An Israeli official, commenting on condition of anonymity, said the PA had a cash-flow problem as a result of US cuts in aid to the Palestinians and the tax revenues dispute but that the situation would not spiral out of control.
“The nightmare scenario of the PA collapsing, or of PA security coordination with Israel ceasing, won’t happen,” the official said.
“No one, including us and the United States, would allow that. If need be, we’ll look for ways of preventing this.”
The US has cut all aid to the Palestinians, including $360 million it used to give to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees. The cuts were widely seen as a bid by Washington to press the Palestinians to re-enter peace talks with Israel that collapsed in 2014.

($1 = 3.6288 shekels)

Four countries discuss ‘tolerance in multiculturalism’ at UAE summit

Updated 24 min 29 sec ago

Four countries discuss ‘tolerance in multiculturalism’ at UAE summit

  • Sheikha Lubna Al-Qasimi was appointed minister of tolerance in 2016, reinforcing the UAE’s commitment to eradicate ideological, cultural and religious bigotry in society
  • Speakers from Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, Tatarstan, and Columbia discussed ways in which their respective countries are attempting to instill social and economic tolerance

DUBAI: With over 200 nationalities currently residing in the GCC, countries across the region are continuing to promote the values of tolerance and coexistence through various initiatives.

The UAE first introduced the post of minister of tolerance with the appointment of Sheikha Lubna Al-Qasimi in 2016, reinforcing its commitment to eradicate ideological, cultural and religious bigotry in society.

The second edition of the World Tolerance Summit, held in Dubai on November 13 and 14, saw a bigger number of countries participating, including Saudi Arabia.

Dr Sheikh Abdullah bin Mohammed Al Fawzan, vice-chairman and secretary general of the King Abdulaziz Center for National Dialogue, reviewed the Kingdom’s tolerance initiatives, and described the summit as “an opportunity to bring about positive change.”

The summit’s second day included a session titled “Tolerance in Multiculturalism: Achieving the Social, Economic and Humane Benefits of a Tolerant World,” in which speakers from Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, Tatarstan, and Columbia discussed ways in which their respective countries are attempting to instill social and economic tolerance.

Princess Lamia bint Majed Saud Al-Saud, secretary general and board member of Alwaleed Philanthropies in Saudi Arabia, touched on the importance of tolerance in humanitarian work.

“It is extremely important to be a tolerant and accepting person in order to be able to help others. Our organization works in 180 countries — and we do not have any discrimination when it comes to language, religion or color,” said Al-Saud.

She said the region’s diversity of nationalities is at the essence of the Arab society: “I think that tolerance is in our DNA. It is something we can trace back through our history and previous civilizations.”

Alwaleed Philanthropies promotes cultural understanding through various centers across the world. Some of the most active are those located in Harvard University and Edinburgh.

“Prince (Al-)Waleed realized there was a serious problem in the way people viewed Islam and Arab culture after 9/11 and decided to take a proactive approach to fix this through the centers, which work on restoring the image of Muslims,” said Al-Saud.

She added: “Tolerance starts with one’s self. You have two ears, so listen to others before you talk and keep an open mind.”

Also speaking at the summit, President Rustam Nurgaliyevich Minnikhanov of Tatarstan discussed the progress of tolerance in the republic’s various cities, which have a population of 4 million people from 173 nationalities.

The two main religions in Tatarstan are Islam and Orthodox Christianity, and the sovereign state went through a long period of conflict before religious groups found common ground.

“We have gone from 20 mosques in (Tatarstan) to more than 1,500, with some just 200 meters away from a church,” said Minnikhanov. “Today, we have stability in our cities, and we have created a council to adopt a system through which we can strengthen the values of tolerance and maintain the peaceful coexistence of religious parties.”

More than 20 million Muslims currently reside in Tatarstan, where new policies in healthcare, education and tourism are catering to the “halal lifestyle,” he added.

Similarly, Muferihat Kamil, Minister of Peace in the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia said her country aims to move forward from a past based on prejudiced conflict.

“The reason behind building a ministry of peace in Ethiopia is the aspirations we have for our people in the existing situation in the country,” she said. “We aim to empower our people and build peace that will resonate with the rest of the region.”

Lucy Jeannette Bermudez Bermudez, president of the State Council of Colombia, discussed her country’s current transition between its government, residents and armed groups. “In order to promote tolerance and respect in the country, our concentration has been on the group known as FARC — the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia, which has now evolved into a political party,” said Bermudez.

The conflict between government and paramilitary groups, crime syndicates and FARC in Colombia began in the mid-1960s, and she stressed the need for the coexistence of different views, religions and race.

“We have different characteristics that we have to live with and even celebrate,” she added. “The advances we see in the UAE are something we look forward to establishing in my country. This model of government is one we should all follow.”