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Unity Fallout: PA to Ask UN to Intervene in Israeli Tax Freeze

PA leadership voted to ask UN to intervene to lift Israeli freeze, instituted to keep money from Hamas, on transfers of tax revenues to the PA.
By Elad Benari
First Publish: 5/12/2011, 4:27 AM / Last Update: 5/12/2011, 5:17 AM

Flash 90

The Palestinian Authority leadership voted on Wednesday to ask the United Nations to intervene in order to lift an Israeli freeze on transfers of tax revenues owed to the PA, AFP reported.

“The executive committee has decided to turn to all international bodies, including the UN Security Council, to demand that Israel unblock Palestinian Authority funds,” PA official Yasser Abed Rabbo told AFP after the meeting and vote.

The tax freeze was announced by Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz last Sunday. The funds are taxes that Israel collects on behalf of the PA and are estimated at NIS 300 million ($88 million). Israel collects more than one billion dollars per year on behalf of the PA, comprising some two-thirds of the entity’s annual budget.

Steinitz explained that the money will stay in Israeli hands until it becomes clear the funds will not reach the coffers of the Hamas terrorist organization.

“If the Palestinians can prove to us... that there is not a joint fund between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas in Gaza,” said Steinitz, the funds might be unfrozen. However, he added, “We ask the entire world not to fund Hamas – so we must not do so, even indirectly.”

The decision to freeze the transfer of taxes to the PA was made by Israel after Fatah, led by PA President Mahmoud Abbas, and the terror group Hamas signed a reconciliation agreement.

On Wednesday, Steinitz brushed off international pressure over the freeze and warned that Israel could take even harsher steps.

“The delay in transferring funds is a yellow card for the Palestinian Authority after the signing of the agreement with Hamas,” Steinitz was quoted by AFP as saying during a radio interview. “Until now, it is a delay of a week to ten days, but it could become a red card.”

Earlier on Wednesday, Abed Rabbo called the Israeli freeze “part of a policy of collective punishment.” During a radio interview on an official PA station, he accused the Israeli government of failing to meet “the minimum international humanitarian norms which rule relations between states, even if one of the parties is an occupied people.”

Abbas himself has threatened to advance his timetable for asking the United Nations for a unilateral declaration of PA statehood if Israel stops the flow of tax funds to the PA because of the unity agreement with Hamas.

“If they keep blackmailing us, we’ll make September nearer,” Abbas threatened last week. “September is the ninth month. If the extortion continues, we will file a request with the UN in the fifth or sixth month of the year.”

The PA received 1.2 billion dollars in international aid in 2010 and over 12 billion dollars since 1995, this in addition to massive UN aid, most of it unaccounted for.