Israel's security cabinet agreed on Sunday to deduct NIS600 million ($176m) from the customs duties it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority, Maariv has reported. According to the Hebrew-language newspaper, this is the same amount as the stipends that the PA paid to Palestinian prisoners held by Israel and their families last year.
The move has already been condemned by the spokesman for the PA presidency. "This is piracy and the theft of the Palestinian people's money," said Nabil Abu Rudeineh. "President Mahmoud Abbas affirms that the rights of prisoners will be safeguarded despite such pressures, and he will not allow a penny to be deducted from the money paid to the Palestinian prisoners and their families."
Abbas and the rest of the PA leadership, added Abu Rudeineh, regard the prisoners as freedom fighters in the struggle for liberation, Jerusalem and the creation of an independent Palestinian state. He urged the international community to put pressure on Israel to cancel and end such "provocative" measures. "The Israeli government must now review its positions and decisions to prevent the situation from reaching a dangerous impasse."
Israeli Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz echoed that view when he abstained from the vote on the deduction. He described the move as "unwise" and argued that it would not be in Israel's interests because it needs to maintain its security coordination with the PA. On that basis alone, he said, there was no need for such a decision. In any case, he pointed out that the Israeli government would repay the money in the form of loans to the PA to alleviate its financial crisis.
The Jerusalem Post reported that the money would be deducted in twelve instalments over the coming year.
The taxes are collected by the Israeli government on behalf of the PA on Palestinian imports and exports. Israel deducts an obligatory commission of three per cent from the revenues, which make up 63 per cent of the PA's total income. The occupation state deducted almost the same amount from the customs duties last year before handing the money to the PA.