JERUSALEM — Israel is withholding $127 million in tax revenue it collects for the Palestinian Authority in response to the authority’s move last week to join the International Criminal Court, further escalating tensions with a step that could have serious repercussions for both sides.
Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, said Saturday that the Israeli move could lead to the disintegration of the 20-year-old authority because it would be unable to pay government workers or provide public services. He vowed to retaliate by expediting the petitions to join the court and other international agencies and said Israel “will be held accountable for everything.”
“He will be solely responsible for the Palestinians under occupation in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem,” Erekat said of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel.
“It’s our tax money. It’s our people’s money,” Erekat said, accusing Israel of “destroying” the Palestinian Authority. Erekat said the tax revenue provided the bulk of the authority’s $160 million monthly operating budget. It is the first of an expected series of punitive measures in a response to a push by the Palestinians to prosecute Israeli officials on war-crime charges over the battle with militants in the Gaza Strip last summer and for continuing settlement construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
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“It’s not the last step,” Gilad Erdan, a minister from Netanyahu’s Likud party, said on Israeli television Saturday night.
Israel has withheld taxes at least a half-dozen times before. The transfers were usually renewed within weeks, serving as a symbolic slap without pushing the authority to financial abyss. But the situation has deteriorated significantly in the past year, with the abductions and slayings of Israeli and Palestinian teenagers, followed by the 50-day war that killed nearly 2,200 people in Gaza and more than 70 on the Israeli side, and a spate of deadly terrorist attacks and clashes in the fall. Frustrated after decades of failed bilateral negotiations, the Palestinians have adopted a global strategy, successfully lobbying European parliaments to recognize them as a state, joining more than 30 international conventions and pressing for a U.N. Security Council Resolution setting a 2017 deadline for ending Israel’s occupation.
The Security Council resolution failed last week, but the Palestinians plan to present it again this month. Joining the International Criminal Court was long considered to be the Palestinians’ doomsday weapon. Now that they have applied to join it, they have fewer — but potentially more potent — weapons in their arsenal, chiefly collapsing the authority and suspending security coordination with Israel.
Either would have profound implications for the Palestinians and Israel. Without the help of Palestinian security forces, Israel would struggle to curb violence. Taking responsibility for education, health and other services for 2.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank and 1.8 million in Gaza would be a huge budgetary blow.
Giora Eiland, a former Israeli national-security officer, called withholding taxes “counterproductive.” “If you cut the payments to the Palestinian Authority, then who is not going to be paid? Some of them are the Palestinian policemen. Do we want them to be frustrated, or do we want them to continue to cooperate with us?” Eiland said.