In wake of unilateral Palestinian move to seek further international recognition, Israel sends clear warning to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas • White House: Unilateral moves by both sides will not accelerate the peace process.
Israel has imposed economic sanctions on the Palestinian Authority in response to the PA's recent submission of applications to 15 different international organizations and conventions.
An Israeli official said that Israel would deduct debt payments from tax transfers that the PA routinely receives, and limit the PA's bank deposits in Israel.
The Israeli official said Israel had "decided this evening to deduct debts of the Palestinian Authority to Israel from tax revenue transfers," but would not say what amounts were involved.
Israel has made it clear to the Palestinians that if they further pursue their unilateral moves in the international arena, Israel will escalate its own unilateral steps.
On Wednesday, Israel said it was limiting its contacts with Palestinian officials, citing the unilateral move by the Palestinians to seek further international recognition. Israel also said it would suspend its participation in a gas exploration project off the coast of the Gaza Strip.
Israel viewed that move as an attempt by the Palestinians to assume the trappings of statehood outside the framework of the U.S.-backed negotiations, which appear to be in danger of collapsing before an April 29 deadline.
Abbas, for his part, has accused Israel of violating a commitment to release two dozen prisoners at the end of March, the last group of about 100 Israel pledged to free, including Palestinians convicted of killing Israelis, when the negotiations resumed in July.
The revenues that Israel collects on goods bound for the Palestinian market amount to about $100 million a month and accounts for about two thirds of the Palestinian budget. Based on Israeli media reports, Palestinian debts to Israel for such services as electricity total at least a month's worth of revenue.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki called the Israeli move "unfortunate" on Friday.
"We've seen these press reports, but we have not seen an official public announcement by the government of Israel. That said, we would regard such a development as unfortunate. We believe that the regular transfer of the Palestinian Authority's tax revenues and economic cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority has been beneficial and is important to the well-being of the Palestinian economy," Psaki said.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said, "Unilateral moves by both sides will not accelerate the peace process, but will rather do the opposite."
The Prime Minister's Office did not comment on the remarks made by American officials and, at this point, it is unclear where the efforts to keep the peace talks alive stand.
Senior Palestinian official Yasser Abed Rabbo said, "These sanctions will not scare us and they're evidence to the world that Israel is a racist occupation state that has resorted to the weapon of collective punishment in addition to other practices including settlements and their expansion and the denial of our most basic rights as a people."
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Friday that "the Israeli decision to withhold these funds is piracy. ... It cannot be maintained."
Meanwhile, an Abbas adviser told The Economist magazine that the PA was in a no-win situation regarding the framework peace deal U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has been trying to formulate. "If we say yes, we are doomed," because of the Palestinian ridicule that would ensue, the adviser said. "And if we say no we are doomed; the blame game is waiting for us as usual."
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