U.S. Criticizes Tax Cutoff To Palestinians

YERUSHALAYIM -

The Obama administration expressed displeasure with Israel over punitive action against the Palestinian Authority for its decision to join the International Criminal Court.

“We conveyed to the Israelis that freezing the tax revenues [to the PA] is an action that raises tensions,” State Department Spokesman Jen Psaki told reporters Monday. “We oppose any actions that raise tensions and call on both sides to avoid it.

Secretary of State John Kerry discussed the issue with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu over the weekend, Psaki said, adding that the U.S. was in contact with Palestinian leadership as well. “We would like to prevent [the ICC bid] from moving forward,” Psaki said.

The Palestinian efforts to join the ICC could cause “implications on our assistance,” Psaki added. “Congress has a great deal of power in that regard,” she said.

A senior official in Yerushalayim said that Israel would be working with the U.S. Congress to ensure the enforcement of legislation passed last month requiring a cutoff of aid to the Palestinians, should they take any action against Israel at the ICC. Funding amounts to some $400 million annually.

Members of the incoming Congress will have to determine with mere membership in the ICC qualifies as taking “actions” in The Hague against Israel. Senate aides told The Jerusalem Post that the move probably would be deemed a violation of the funding law.

Meanwhile, the EU on Tuesday called on both sides to avoid steps that could undermine “peace efforts.”

Within the Israeli government, the tax move was attacked by President Reuven Rivlin, who told a closed meeting of more than 30 Israeli envoys to Europe that the move was damaging to Israel.

While Rivlin reportedly condemned the PA move as a violation of the Oslo Accords, he was of the opinion that this was not the proper response.

“Freezing the transfer of Palestinian tax funds does not benefit us and does not benefit them,” Rivlin told the ambassadors. “Using these funds, the Palestinians sustain themselves and [keep] the Palestinian Authority functioning. Israel’s interest is a functioning PA.”