By Jaafar Sadaqa
RAMALLAH, Monday, January 9, 2023 (WAFA) - The recent decision of the Israeli Minister of Finance, Bezalel Smotrich, to seize 139 million shekels from the Palestinian clearance tax revenues constitutes the latest episode in years of Israeli robbery of Palestinian funds.
It does not seem that this robbery will be the last in light of the silence of the international community regarding the measures taken by the successive Israeli governments, the latest of which is the government of Benjamin Netanyahu, described as the most extremist in the history of the occupying state.
The first episode of these deductions began shortly after the establishment of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in 1994 with a unilateral decision and without review or approval of the PA. Contrary to the signed agreements, the Israeli government has been deducting from the clearance funds for the benefit of companies that provide services to Palestinians, such as electricity, health, water and sanitation.
The sums deducted under this clause varied from month to month, but in the end, they accumulated to reach billions of dollars, totaling about $11 billion in 10 years between 2011 and 2021.
In 2022 alone, the total unilateral Israeli deductions from Palestinian tax revenues in exchange for these services amounted to 1.6 billion shekels (about $450 million).
In 2019, a new round of Israeli deductions from the Palestinian clearing began by deducting about 50 million shekels per month, equivalent to what Israel says are allocations paid by the PA in the form of salaries to the families of Palestinians killed, imprisoned, and wounded.
According to Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh, the total sums deducted and accumulated under this item from the beginning of 2019 until the end of 2022 amounted to about two billion shekels (more than $570 million at today's exchange rate).
Until now, Israel maintains these amounts in a sub-account with the Ministry of Finance and has not disposed of them, but in the context of Smotrich’s decision, 139 million shekels (about $40 million) from the Palestinian clearance revenues will be seized immediately and transferred as compensation to families whose members were killed in Palestinian operations, as the Netanyahu government claims.
The Israeli occupation government claims that this amount is equivalent to the payments made by the PA to the families of martyrs, wounded and prisoners during the year 2022.
The Israeli deductions from the clearing house do not stop at these two types of deductions (the allowance for services and what it says is equivalent to the allocations of the martyrs, wounded and prisoners), as Israel deducts 3% of the monthly clearing revenues as a commission on the taxes collected for the benefit of the PA, which was a small amount (several million) in the early years of the establishment of PA. However, it has multiplied dozens of times so far and has now exceeded 350 million shekels (about $100 million) annually, which is an amount that covers, and exceeds, the total value of the salaries of all Israeli Ministry of Finance employees, although the number of employees working to collect the Palestinian clearance does not exceed four employees, at a time the Palestinian government was forced to cut the salaries of its employees under the pressure of these deductions since November 2021 until now.
Add to this Israel's looting of Palestinian dues from the continuous hikes on departure fees collected from Palestinian travelers across the Allenby/King Hussein/Karama bridge, unilaterally and without the review and approval of the PA, which the Palestinian government says exceeded one billion shekels (more than $280 million).
These deductions and differences are part of eight outstanding financial files between the PA and Israel, such as the taxes that the Israeli government collects from Area C, the price differences for services, most notably electricity, and the exploitation of Palestinian resources.
In the end, the Palestinian government says stopping the continuous and steady Israeli plundering of Palestinian funds would help it save about $800 million annually, and is sufficient to close the incessant deficit in the Palestinian budget, dispense with foreign aid for the budget, and direct it completely towards development projects and improving the economy, and thus improving revenues from local collection. However, their continuation and expansion at the pace that occurred during the last four years, reflects an Israeli will to push the PA toward collapse.
Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh stressed during the cabinet meeting today that the measures taken by the current Israeli occupation government related to new financial deductions and the renewal of old ones are nothing but a measure aimed at undermining the PA and pushing it to the brink financially and institutionally, which may limit the performance of its work in serving its people.
The Prime Minister considered these measures a new war against the Palestinian people, their capabilities and funds, and a war against the PA, its survival and its achievements, thus targeting the entire Palestinian national project, which is a violation of the signed agreements.
He called on the Arab countries to implement the decisions of the Arab summits related to activating the financial safety net, and to resume aid to the State of Palestine to enable it to face these brutal measures and called on the international community to put pressure on the occupation government to stop the piracy of the Palestinian money and return the accumulated Palestinian funds and dues that it has and is unjustly withheld.