Israel Withholds Taxes to Palestinians After ICC Application

YERUSHALAYIM (Reuters) -

Israel will withhold tax revenue and seek ways to bring war crimes prosecutions against Palestinian leaders in retaliation for Palestinian moves to join the International Criminal Court (ICC), Israeli officials said.

On Friday, the Palestinians delivered documents to U.N. headquarters in New York on joining the Rome Statute of the ICC in The Hague and other global treaties with the aim of prosecuting Israelis for alleged war crimes.

An Israeli government official, speaking on condition of anonymity,  confirmed the substance of the reports but would not elaborate.

Senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat lashed out at the Israeli maneuver, calling it an act of “piracy” and a “collective punishment” against the Palestinian people.

In a first response, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu decided in consultation with senior ministers on Thursday to withhold the next monthly transfer of tax revenue, totaling some 500 million shekels ($125 million), an Israeli official said.

The tax revenues are critical to running the Palestinian Authority, which exercises limited self-rule, and paying public sector salaries. Israel took a similar step in December 2012, freezing revenue transfers for three months after the Palestinians’ launch of a campaign for recognition of statehood at the United Nations.

In addition to the revenue freeze, an Israeli official said Israel was “weighing the possibilities for large-scale prosecution in the United States and elsewhere” of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and other senior Palestinian officials.

Israel would probably press these cases via non-governmental groups and pro-Israel legal organizations capable of filing lawsuits abroad, a second Israeli official said.

Netanyahu had previously warned that unilateral moves by the Palestinian Authority at the United Nations would expose its leaders to prosecution over its alliance with the Hamas terrorist organization.

Hamas “commits war crimes, shooting at civilians from civilian-populated areas,” one official said.

Washington sends about $400 million in economic aid to the Palestinians every year. Under U.S. law, that aid would be cut off if the Palestinians used membership of the ICC to make accusations against Israel.