New York: One of President Donald Trump’s lead Middle East peace negotiators lashed out at the Palestinian National Authority on Friday, accusing it of institutionalising support for terrorism amid a dispute over Israeli tax transfers that make up a significant portion of Palestinian revenues.
Under long-standing accords, Israel makes monthly transfers to the PNA from certain taxes it collects related to Palestinians. Last month, Israel announced a freeze on about 5 per cent of the tax payout, as “punishment” for PNA’s policy of paying stipends to Palestinian prisoners in Israel and to the families of Palestinians killed or wounded by the Israeli regime.
In response, and despite the authority’s financial problems, the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, rejected the full tax transfer and vowed to continue to pay the stipends.
On Friday, the Trump administration’s Middle East envoy, Jason Greenblatt, accused Palestinian leaders of offering the stipends as a reward for acts of terrorism.
“If your citizens were being routinely attacked by terrorists, which of you would tolerate a reward system that compensated the attackers for their crimes?” he wrote in one tweet. “How can we possibly censure Israel for taking the same stance?”
Greenblatt was in New York on Friday for discussions on the dispute in a closed-door session of the UN Security Council, which apparently failed to break the impasse.
Mansour Al Otaibi, Kuwait’s ambassador to the United Nations, told reporters after the session that most members of the Security Council “overwhelmingly” considered the Israeli decision “unacceptable.”
“This is Palestinian money,” he said. “They have the right, the Palestinians, to do whatever they want with their money.”
The tax revenues are generated from the earnings of Palestinian day labourers and merchants who do business in Israel, and from customs duties on Palestinian imports through Israeli ports.
In July, the Israeli Knesset, or parliament, approved legislation that would allow the government to withhold a portion of the tax revenue, which makes up about 7 per cent of the PNA’s annual budget.
The PNA’s refusal to accept any of the revenues only adds to its financial woes. It was already struggling after a decision last year by the Trump administration to cut funding for a UN agency that provides assistance to millions of Palestinians.
The Trump administration’s hard-line tactics have been led by the president’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner to force Palestinians to return to the negotiating table and drop many of their long-standing demands. Such discussions have largely been paused while Kushner and Greenblatt put the finishing touches on a long-awaited peace plan.