Ramallah: Israel said on Monday it would resume regular monthly transfers of about $100 million (Dh367 million) in taxes and customs it collects for the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), a step bound to ease but not end the protracted cash crisis of the self-rule government in the West Bank.
Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad accused Israel of withholding the funds illegally, saying the money belonged to the Palestinians. Israel has released some money since the UN recognition, but not on schedule. Israel’s decision came just days after President Barack Obama met separately with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during a visit to the region.
The U.S. is seeking to bring Arab countries into efforts to restart Israeli-Palestinian negotiations that broke down more than four years ago, a senior Palestinian official said Monday. Obama said stabilising the PNA, which is buckling under mounting debt, is key to US peace efforts.
Meanwhile, wide gaps remain on the terms of renewing Israeli-Palestinian negotiations that broke down more than four years ago. Obama heard from both sides during his visit and US Secretary of State John Kerry is making a new push to restart the talks. The Palestinians say Israel must freeze colony building in the West Bank, Gaza and occupied east Jerusalem, the lands it captured in 1967, before any negotiations can resume.
Israel says the issue of colonies can be addressed during negotiations. Obama has sided with the Israeli view, and it is not clear how the US can bring the Palestinians back to the table without a colony freeze. Arab countries are now being asked to help, said Yasser Abed Rabbo, a top official in the Palestine Liberation Organisation.
“US efforts will increase in coming weeks and will include other Arab parties, such as Jordan and Egypt,” Abed Rabbo told Voice of Palestine radio on Monday, adding that an Arab League delegation is to visit Washington as part of these efforts.
However, he said there would be no flexibility on Palestinian demands for a colony freeze.
“For us, the important thing is the substance, such as the full colony freeze and the recognition of the 1967 borders,” he said.
The Palestinians want a state in the West Bank, Gaza and occupied east Jerusalem, but are ready to negotiate border changes, provided the 1967 frontier is the baseline. Palestinian officials say they cannot return to talks without such a clear framework, arguing that open-ended negotiations will simply provide diplomatic cover to Israel to keep expanding colonies.
“We fear they [the Israelis] would waste time by getting us into a bargaining process over details and steps here and there, and in this way would waste two to three years and then get us to wait for a new US administration,” Abed Rabbo said.
Successive Israeli governments have built dozens of colonies in the West Bank and occupied east Jerusalem, now home to more than half a million Israelis. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, dismantling almost two dozen colonies there, but sharply restricts access to the territory.