Israel had warned there would be consequences, and they began rolling in Saturday. A day after Palestinians delivered all the necessary documentation to make good on their vow to join the International Criminal Court in the Hague, it was revealed Israel will be withholding tax revenue. The move, reported by Haaretz and confirmed by multiple sources, involves withholding the monthly transfer of tax revenue amounting to around $127 million, according to the New York Times. Palestinian officials have warned the move could very well lead to the disintegration of the Palestinian Authority since it relies on that cash for the bulk of its $160 million monthly budget and cannot pay salaries without that cash.
“This is highway robbery. Not only is this illegal, they are adding money theft to land theft. The revenues belong to the Palestinian people, they go to pay salaries and support our economy. Israel has no business deciding to steal our funds,” senior Palestinian negotiator Hanan Ashrawi told Reuters. The funds involve Palestinian taxes collected by Israel, and they were supposed to be transferred on Friday. An unnamed official equates the freezing of funds with a war crime, telling the Times of Israel that it will be the first complaint Palestinians present at the ICC.
Israel has made it clear though that Palestinians should brace for more punitive steps after Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas signed a bid to join the International Criminal Court on Wednesday. The move amounts to an effort to pursue war-crimes charges against Israel. “It’s not the last step,” Gilad Erdan, an Israeli minister, said on Saturday night. “Other steps are being considered.”
Reuters hears word that Israel is considering filing war-crimes charges against Palestinian leaders, including Abbas. If Israel moves forward with the lawsuits it is likely to claim that the Palestinian Authority leaders in the West Bank are in cahoots with Hamas in Gaza.
This is hardly the first time Israel has frozen the flow of tax funds to Palestinians. The last such instance took place in April. All of the freezes have been short-lived, but the move to join the international court at the Hague “marks a major policy shift, transforming Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s relations with Israel from tense to openly hostile,” notes the Associated Press.