US defiant at Security Council over Israel tax seizure
UNITED NATIONS - The United States accused the Palestinians on Friday of manufacturing a crisis by rejecting the first 2019 monthly tax transfer from Israel because it slashed a portion designated for financial support to families of militants jailed in Israel.
But Kuwait's UN ambassador told reporters that an "overwhelming" number of UN Security Council members opposed Israel's decision to deduct money that Palestinians transfer to the families of people killed, injured or imprisoned for attacks against Israel, which according to international law is an occupying power on Palestinian territory.
The Palestinian decision on the tax transfer came despite increasing cash flow troubles, caused in part by US aid cuts, that could destabilise the Palestinian Authority, an interim self-government body set up following the 1993 Oslo accords between the Palestinians and Israel.
Under the interim accords, Israel collects taxes on imports into the Israeli-occupied West Bank and in the Gaza Strip, an enclave under Palestinian Islamist rule since 2007, and makes monthly transfers of the proceeds to the PA.
The tax transfers make up about half of the PA's budget, according to Palestinian Finance Ministry data. On Feb. 17, Israel announced a freeze on about 5 percent of that money affecting stipends the PA pays to families of Palestinian militants killed or jailed by Israel.
The United Nations Security Council met behind closed doors to discuss the issue at the request of Kuwait and Indonesia. US President Donald Trump's Middle East peace envoy Jason Greenblatt represented Washington at the meeting.
"It is entirely inappropriate to focus on Israel as the source of this crisis. It is the Palestinian Authority that has chosen to manufacture the current crisis," Greenblatt told the 15-member council, according to UN diplomats in attendance.
"The Palestinian Authority is refusing to accept over $150 million in revenue to protest the fact that $11 million is being withheld, only to make a political point," the diplomats quoted Greenblatt as saying. "Does that sound like a governing authority that is concerned with the welfare of its people?"
The diplomats said Greenblatt told the council that members who disagree with Israel's decision to withhold the customs revenues were free to discuss it with the Israeli government.
But in the meantime, Greenblatt asked the Security Council to send a united message to the Palestinian Authority to stop "its irresponsible decision to reject the transfer of the remaining funds."
Greenblatt said the Palestinian payments to militants' families "creates incentives for further acts of terrorism." The United States passed legislation last year to reduce aid to the PA unless it stopped the pay-outs.
Greenblatt called on other council members to join the United States in urging the Palestinian Authority to end the payments, diplomats said.
'This is Palestinian money'
The US mission to the United Nations declined to comment on Greenblatt's remarks. The Palestinians have condemned the Israeli decision as "piracy."
Greenblatt and White House adviser Jared Kushner have been working on a plan to mediate peace between Israel and the Palestinians. UN diplomats said Greenblatt gave no details of the plan on Friday.
Palestinians have refused to discuss any peace blueprint with the United States in the wake of Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital in 2017.
"It's a unilateral decision in violation of existing bilateral agreements," Kuwait's UN Ambassador Mansour al-Otaibi told reporters after the Security Council discussion.
He said the Palestinians "have the right ... to do whatever they want with their money."
He said UN Mideast envoy Nikolay Mladenov, who briefed the council by video, said "there is a need for mediation on this to solve it."
Mansour said an "overwhelming" number of members on the 15-nation Security Council think the Israeli decision is "a violation of the Oslo agreement and Paris protocol, and this is Palestinian money."
Indonesia's Djani said Israel's suspension of international observers in Hebron coupled with the withholding tax revenue were making things "more and more difficult once again for the Palestinian people — so that's why we are raising this issue, because we don't want to continue to escalate an issue."