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Palestinian Authority to pay reduced salaries as Israel blocks funds

February 6, 2024 at 4:22 pm

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh leads the weekly cabinet meeting in Ramallah, West Bank on November 13, 2023. [Palestinian Presidency / Handout – Anadolu Agency]

The Palestinian Authority said, on Tuesday, it will pay public sector workers 60 per cent of their December salaries this week as it grapples with the long-running fallout of Israel’s refusal to transfer tax funds earmarked for Gaza, Reuters reports.

Funding to the Palestinian Authority, the body which exercises limited governance in the Occupied West Bank, has been severely restricted by the months-long dispute over transferring tax revenues Israel collects on behalf of the Palestinians.

Funding from international donors has also been squeezed, falling from 30 per cent of the $6 billion annual budget to around 1 per cent, Palestinian Prime Minister, Mohammad Shtayyeh, said.

“The funding situation of the Authority is very difficult,” he said, following a meeting of the cabinet.

The funding dispute has been a source of friction between Israel and the Palestinians since the start of the war in Gaza in October, when Israeli Finance Minister, Bezalel Smotrich, refused to release all the funds, accusing the PA of supporting the 7 October attack in Israel led by Hamas.

READ: Israel approves plan for Palestinian tax funds to be held by third-party country

Under interim peace accords signed in the early 1990s, Israel collects taxes on the Palestinians’ behalf and typically transfers them to the PA monthly on the approval of the Finance Minister.

However, transfers have been stalled since October, when Smotrich withheld around 600 million shekels ($164.51 million) of the total 1 billion shekels due for transfer, prompting the Palestinian Authority, which says Gaza is an integral part of Palestinian Territory, to refuse to accept any funds.

“We cannot accept conditions on our money. We will remain committed to the prisoners and martyrs and to our people in the Gaza Strip, not out of favour, but by virtue of our national, religious and moral responsibility,” Shtayyeh said.

Although Gaza is controlled by Hamas, the Palestinian Authority continues to fund essential areas of the blockaded enclave’s budget, including paying the salaries of health workers.

The dispute comes ahead of a visit by US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, who has pressed Israel to resolve the budget dispute, which has left thousands of Palestinian public sector workers without pay for months.

The dispute over the Palestinian Authority budget coincides with a separate dispute over funding to UNRWA, the United Nations agency which pays for emergency relief for Palestinians.

Much of the UNWRA budget has been cut off since Israel accused 12 of the Agency’s 13,000 Gaza workers of involvement in the 7 October attack. The claims came as Israel faces a genocide case at the International Court of Justice over its war on Gaza, and after years of it calling for the Agency to be disbanded.

Israel has repeatedly equated UNRWA staff with Hamas members in efforts to discredit them, providing no proof of the claims, while lobbying hard to have UNRWA closed as it is the only UN agency to have a specific mandate to look after the basic needs of Palestinian refugees. If the agency no longer exists, argues Israel, then the refugee issue must no longer exist, and the legitimate right for Palestinian refugees to return to their land will be unnecessary. Israel has denied that right of return since the late 1940s, even though its own membership of the UN was made conditional upon Palestinian refugees being allowed to return to their homes and land.

READ: Norway to help tax funds transfer between Israel and Palestinian Authority