Palestinians to resume taking tax money collected by Israel

Deal between PA and Israeli ministers seems to ease Ramallah's financial woes, though prisoner stipend dispute remains.

    Israeli Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, left, has reached an agreement with the Palestinian Authority to release tax revenues collected by Israel on behalf of the Palestinians [Menahem Kahana/Pool/Reuters]
    Israeli Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, left, has reached an agreement with the Palestinian Authority to release tax revenues collected by Israel on behalf of the Palestinians [Menahem Kahana/Pool/Reuters]

    The cash-strapped Palestinian Authority (PA) will once again accept tax revenues collected on its behalf by Israel, after rejecting the money for months, Israeli and Palestinian officials said on Friday.

    The PA had stopped taking the money because of a dispute with Israel over stipends paid to the families of Palestinians killed or jailed by Israel.

    The change of policy could help the PA relieve a deepening financial crisis.

    A spokeswoman for Israel's finance ministry said that 1.5 billion shekels ($431m) would be handed over to the PA on Sunday.

    Hussein al-Sheikh, the PA minister of civil affairs, said that both sides would begin discussions on a range of financial issues next week, following understandings reached on Thursday with Moshe Kahlon, Israel's finance minister

    "The agreement was also on transferring a payment from the #PA's financial dues. The dispute remains over the salaries of the families of #prisoners and #martyrs. We are determined to pay their dues at all costs," al-Sheikh said on Twitter, referencing the funds that Israel is still deducting from PA transfers.

    'Pay for slay'?

    In February, Israel announced it would cut by five percent the approximately $190m in tax revenues it transfers to the PA each month from imports that reach the occupied West Bank and the Hamas-run Gaza Strip via Israeli ports.

    The deducted sum represents the amount of money paid by the PA, which exercises limited self-rule in the West Bank, to families of Palestinians convicted and jailed by Israel for security offences, including deadly attacks on Israelis.

    The tax transfers make up about half of the PA's budget, according to Palestinian finance ministry data.

    Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has since February refused to accept the partial tax remittances from Israel, saying the PA is entitled to all the money under interim peace deals.

    Israel calls the stipends a "pay for slay" policy and says it encourages violence. Meanwhile, Palestinians hail their jailed brethren as heroes in the struggle for an independent state and say their families are deserving of support.

    The United States passed legislation last year to sharply reduce aid to the PA unless it stopped the payouts, and the administration of US President Donald Trump last year cut hundreds of millions of dollars of aid.

    In August, Israel agreed to withhold less Palestinian tax money, allowing the PA to collect fuel taxes directly - a move that partially eased Palestinian financial concerns.

    Analysts have warned that chronic financial problems raise the risk of violence erupting in the occupied West Bank.

    SOURCE: Reuters news agency