The Israeli regime is set to withhold $180 million in tax revenue it collected last year on behalf of the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority (PA), the regime’s new cabinet said on Sunday.
The amount, which constitutes about 7 percent of the PA’s total tax revenue, will be held back “to offset stipends paid to militants and their families”, a reference to Palestinian prisoners and their families.
Under a controversial 2018 law, Tel Aviv deducts a certain amount from the tax it collects on behalf of the Fatah-led PA on flimsy grounds. The tax revenues are known in Palestine and Israel as 'maqasa'.
Taxes collected by the Israeli regime form about half of the income of the Palestinian Authority, which exercises limited self-rule in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
It is not the first time the Israeli cabinet has withheld tax funds it collects for the Palestinian Authority. In November last year, it voted to hold back approximately $182 million out of a transfer of around $731 million over the so-called “pay to slay” payments.
While the regime calls stipends for resistance fighters and their families a “pay for slay” policy, Palestinians hail their imprisoned brethren as heroes in a struggle for the liberation of occupied territories, and deserving of the financial support.
Qadri Abu Baker, head of prisoners’ affairs in the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), called the Israeli regime’s measure a crime of “terror and piracy”.
Since 1994, when the Israeli regime and the PLO signed Paris Protocol, Tel Aviv had been collecting tax revenues of imported goods on behalf of the Palestinians.
In 2018, the regime passed a controversial law, enabling it to withhold stipends from tax revenues the PA pays on the monthly basis to families of Palestinians imprisoned or killed by Israel.
The bill was pushed by Avigdor Liberman, the leader of Israel’s right-wing party Yisrael Beitenu and Likud Knesset member Avi Dichter.
When the law was first introduced, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas declared that he would not accept the deducted sum. The PLO secretary general Saeb Erekat also condemned the decision, terming it “piracy.”
The stipends benefit roughly 35,000 families of the Palestinians killed or wounded by Israel. The PA says the payments are a form of welfare stipend to the families who have lost their main breadwinners.
In a speech in June 2017, Abbas argued that “payments to support the families are a social responsibility to look after innocent people affected by the incarceration or killing of their loved ones.”
“It’s quite frankly racist rhetoric to call all our political prisoners terrorists,” Abbas said. “They are, in actuality, the victims of the occupation, not the creators of the occupation.”
In October 2019, then-Israeli finance minister Moshe Kahlon, together with Palestinian Authority officials, worked out a ‘partial solution’ to the problem, which involved granting a tax exemption on gasoline that the PA buys from Tel Aviv.
The move was strongly criticized by the Palestinian resistance movements, which see any compromise deal with Tel Aviv as betrayal of the cause of Palestine.
The latest move is yet another sign that the new Israeli regime led by extremist Naftali Bennett is not only continuing the policies of the previous regime but adopting a tougher line on Palestine.