Israel will withhold tax revenues from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ administration until March at least in response to his statehood campaign at the UN, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said.
Under interim peace deals, Israel collects about US$100 million a month in duties on behalf of the Palestinian Authority in the occupied West Bank — money that is badly needed to pay public sector salaries.
“The Palestinians can forget about getting even one cent in the coming four months and in four months’ time, we will decide how to proceed,” Lieberman said in a speech on Tuesday night.
Israel says Abbas violated previous peace accords by sidestepping stalled negotiations and securing a Palestinian status upgrade in the UN last month.
Israel has already withheld this month’s transfer, saying the money would be used to start paying off US$200 million the Palestinians owe the Israel Electric Corporation.
Lieberman said the Palestinians also had another debt with the Israeli water authority that would have to be paid off.
Yasser Abed Rabbo, a senior Palestinian official, said earlier this month that Israel was guilty of “piracy and theft” by refusing to hand over the funds.
The EU has also criticized Israel for not handing over the cash.
Israel has previously frozen payments to the PA during times of heightened security and diplomatic tensions, such as when the UN cultural body UNESCO granted the Palestinians full membership a year ago.
Abbas’ UN victory was a diplomatic setback for the US and Israel, which were joined by just seven other countries in voting against upgrading Palestine’s observer status to “non-member state.”
Hours after the UN vote, Israel said it would authorize 3,000 new settler homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and expedite plans for thousands more, which critics say would kill off Palestinian hopes of a viable state.