UN, Clinton demand Israel hands over Palestinians’ tax money
By Saed Bannoura – IMEMC & Agencies
Israeli daily, Haaretz, reported that U.S. Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, phoned Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, urging him to release Palestinian tax money Israel has been withholding since Palestine was voted as a full UNESCO member. Netanyahu also rejected a request from the U.N. in this regard.
Officials at the Netanyahu office stated that Clinton phoned Netanyahu, but claimed that the call was focused on the Iranian file, and not the $200 Million Israel is withholding.
Last week, Israeli [sic, should be US] National Security Adviser, Tom Donilon, phoned his Israeli counterpart, Yaakov Meridor, discussed measures regarding new sanctions on Iran, and informed him that the White House expects Israel to release the Palestinian tax money.
Israeli sources reported that Clinton demanded Netanyahu release the Palestinian tax money, but Netanyahu rejected the demand and stated that the majority of his cabinet is against the move.
He also stated that Israel will not make any decision until after Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, meets Hamas Political Bureau Chief, Khaled Mashal, in Cairo onThursday.
Israel opposes the Palestinian Unity Agreement, and punishes the Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas whenever it makes amends with Hamas.
Also, a spokesperson of the United Nations stated that U.N. Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon phoned Netanyahu and asked him to release the Palestinian tax money.
The secretary-General also informed Netanyahu that settlement activities in the occupied territories, and in occupied Jerusalem, hinder the efforts to ensure the resumption of peace talks, adding that settlement construction violates the International Law.
He told Netanyahu that it is imperative to avoid any tension in the region, and to create a positive atmosphere that would help boost the peace process.
It is worth mentioning that Israeli Defense Minister, Ehud Barak, opposes the freeze of Palestinian tax money, and repeatedly stated that such a move would make the P.A. unable to pay wages, including the salaries of its security forces “that are helping Israel in countering terrorism”, according to Barak.
Israeli Finance Minister, Yuval Steinitz, pushed for freezing the Palestinian tax money in order to “punish the Palestinians for conducting unilateral moves at the U.N.” Israeli security leaders warned against the move, and said that the freeze harms the Palestinian security forces that coordinate their activities with Israeli.
On his part, Israeli Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, threatened to cause the collapse of the government coalition should Israel evacuate settlement outposts, and should it transfer the Palestinian tax money back to the P.A.
UN chief calls on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to hand over tax payments owed to Palestinian Authority, stop settlement activity
UN chief Ban Ki-moon has called on Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to hand over tax payments owed to the Palestinian Authority and to stop settlement activity, his spokesman said.
The UN secretary general “stressed the need to de-escalate” Israeli-Palestinian tensions that have heightened since the Palestinian bid to become a member of the United Nations, said spokesman Martin Nesirky, giving an account of telephone talks between Ban and Netanyahu Tuesday.
After UNESCO agreed to accept the Palestinian Authority last month, Israel withheld payments of VAT and customs revenues that it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority. The UN estimates about USD 100 million a month is involved.
Israel also announced new approvals for settlements. “The secretary general appealed to Prime Minister Netanyahu to immediately resume the transfer of Palestinian tax and customs revenues, in line with Israel’s legal obligations,” said Nesirky.
“He also expressed his deep concern about Israel’s announcement of further settlement expansions, including in east Jerusalem, which undermine current peace efforts and violate international law.”
Ban said Israel had to contribute to efforts to ease tensions “to create an environment conducive for the resumption of direct negotiations.”
Talks between the two sides have been halted since September last year when Israel ended a moratorium on settlement construction.
The diplomatic Quartet on the Middle East — the United States, European Union, Russia and United Nations — launched a new bid to hold talks on September 23 when Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas made his application to join the UN. International envoys have struggled to bridge the gap between the two sides however.
In his talks with Netanyahu, Ban welcomed Israel’s approval of new UN construction projects worth USD 5.5 million in Gaza “while calling for further measures towards lifting the closure” of the territory, Nesirky said.