AMMAN: The Israeli military has ordered banks in Palestine to close accounts held by Palestinian prisoners, while the prisoners and their families argue that banks licensed by the Palestinian Monetary Authority should not have to follow Israeli orders.
The problem escalated this week when the Jordanian-owned Cairo Amman Bank unilaterally closed the accounts of a number of prisoners. The bank’s owners insist that they have no choice but to obey international regulators who are “biased toward Israel,” sources who asked not to be identified told Arab News.
Global financial institutions use the SWIFT (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication) network for US transactions and are subject to American regulations, under which all their assets could be frozen.
Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh reaffirmed on Thursday his rejection of the Israeli pressure and ordered the formation of a committee to study ways to respond.
Ibrahim Milhem, the government’s spokesman, said the committee is headed by Azzam Shawwa, the governor of the Monetary Authority, and includes the prisoners’ affairs minister and representatives of the Finance Ministry and the Association of Banks in Palestinian. “The committee will examine the Israeli threats against the banks that provide their services to the families of the prisoners and martyrs, and make the necessary recommendations to address them,” Milhelm said.
Shawwa sent a letter on May 7 to the banking society asking banks not to “rush into” any action against their clients.
One source told Arab News that if there is no political solution found to this problem, there are alternative solutions including using the post office and cash payments. But the source warned that if the Israelis and Americans keep pressing, the banking system will collapse. “If the banking system collapses, the Palestinian government will fall,” the source told Arab News.
The committee will examine the Israeli threats against the banks that provide their services to the families of the prisoners and martyrs, and make the necessary recommendations to address them.
Ibrahim Milhem, Palestinian government spokesman
At the same time, however, the source warned that the Palestinian government should respect the independence of the Monetary Authority.
Ghassan Nimer, spokesman for the Palestinian Ministry of Interior, told Arab News that two branches of the bank were the target of attacks Wednesday and Thursday. “Shots were fired at the front of the Cairo Amman Bank in Jenin on Wednesday, while a Molotov cocktail was thrown at a huge sign bearing the bank’s name in Jericho. Although it appears that the attacks are connected with the closure of the accounts of prisoners, we denounce these attacks on private property regardless of the motive.
“The security forces are investigating both incidents and will deal with them within the context of the law,” he continued.
Palestinian and Jordanian banking officials did not respond to phone calls from Arab News.
A sign was taped on the gate on the Cairo Amman bank’s Jericho branch with the following message: “To our brothers in the Cairo Amman Bank. Your agreement to implement the Israeli occupation’s order to freeze the accounts of our heroic prisoners is a sign of shame. It is a total and clear bias to the Israel terror security forces and it represents the bypassing of national sovereignty. You are obliged to retract your disgraceful decision immediately. Your license is from the Palestinian Monetary Authority so let your decision also be Palestinian.”
Qadura Fares, head of the Palestinian Prisoners Society and a former PA minister without portfolio told the Middle East-focused US media outlet The Media Line that the new Israeli army policy amounts to imposing Israeli sovereignty on Palestinian institutions that are meant to operate according to Palestinian law. “It’s reoccupying the West Bank,” he said.
Maj. Gen. Nadav Padan of the Israeli army’s Central Command had signed an amendment to an order regarding the West Bank that was “intended to expand the criminal and administrative tools in the hands of the Israeli military commander.”