The United States, the European Union and the Israeli president have all criticised a decision by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to withhold £83 million in tax revenues from the Palestinian Authority
The punitive measure was largely anticipated after Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas signed the Rome Treaty, the first step towards prosecuting Israel for war crimes in the International Criminal Court (ICC).
However, swift condemnation from the US, EU and the Office of the Israeli President, Reuven Rivlin, immediately undermined support for the move.
“Freezing the transfer of Palestinian tax funds does not benefit us and does not benefit them,” said Rivlin. “Using these funds, the Palestinians sustain themselves and keep the PA functioning. Israel’s interest is a functioning PA.”
Washington also had harsh words for the Israeli government, with US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki saying: “We conveyed to the Israelis that freezing the tax revenues is an action that raises tensions… We oppose any actions that raise tensions and we call on both sides to avoid it.
Israel has frozen Palestinian tax receipts several times in the past, only to release them later, because the money pays for security personnel in the West Bank, with whom Israel cooperates.
It is now widely expected that the US will follow suit, when a new Republican-dominated Congress takes shape later this month. The US halted aid to the PA in 2007, when Hamas took power in Gaza, and cut the budget again in 2011, after Abbas sought Palestinian statehood at the UN.
Last week, both Washington and London criticised new Palestinian plans to join the ICC and to press ahead with a renewed statehood bid.