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Yellen concerned about Israel threats to cut off Palestinian banks

May 23, 2024 at 4:11 pm

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen makes statements to the press at Johns Hopkins University in Washington, United States on April 20, 2023 [Celal Güneş/Anadolu Agency]

US Treasury Secretary, Janet Yellen, said on Thursday she was concerned by a threat from Israel to cut off Palestinian banks from their Israeli correspondent banks, a move that would close a critical lifeline for the Palestinian economy, Reuters reports.

Yellen told a news conference ahead of a G7 finance ministers meeting beginning on Friday that the US and its partners “need to do everything possible to increase humanitarian assistance to Palestinians in Gaza, to curtail violence in the West Bank, and to stabilise the West Bank’s economy”.

She said she would bring up the issue at the meeting of the Group of Seven industrial democracies in the lakeside resort town of Stresa in northern Italy.

“I expect other countries to express concern about the impact of such a decision on the West Bank economy. I think this would have a very adverse effect also on Israel.”

Israel’s Finance Minister, Belazel Smotrich, has said he cannot renew a waiver that expires on 1 July which allows Israeli banks to process shekel payments for services and salaries tied to the Palestinian Authority.

READ: PA minister calls on Arab states to activate financial safety net to challenge Israeli plans

In a post on the X social media site reacting to Yellen’s comments, Smotrich said he could not sign the waiver because Palestinians are still funding “terrorism” and Israeli banks can be sued for violating anti-terrorism financing laws.

“The financial system of the Palestinian Authority is infected with terrorism up to its neck,” said Smotrich, a member of a far-right Israeli coalition partner that supports settlements in the West Bank. He called critics of the policy “hypocrites”.

Yellen said it was important to keep open the Israeli-Palestinian correspondent banking relationships to allow battered economies in the West Bank and Gaza to function and help ensure security.

“These banking channels are critical for processing transactions that enable almost $8 billion a year in imports from Israel, including electricity, water, fuel, and food, as well as facilitating almost $2 billion a year in exports on which Palestinian livelihoods depend,” Yellen said.

She added that Israel’s withholding of revenues collected on behalf of the Palestinian authority also threatens the West Bank’s economic stability.

“My team and I have also engaged directly with the Israeli government to urge action that would bolster the Palestinian economy and, I believe, Israel’s own security,” Yellen said.

Financial tensions between Israel and the US have risen over US sanctions imposed on Israeli settlers in the West Bank.

READ: War, lack of electricity mean banks can’t operate in Gaza, Palestine Monetary Authority says