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PA finance minister confirms talks held with Israel to boost economy

Feb. 23, 2016 3:29 P.M. (Updated: Feb. 23, 2016 8:16 P.M.)
RAMALLAH (Ma'an) -- Palestinian Minister of Finance Shukri Bishara confirmed Monday that he has met with his Israeli counterpart Moshe Kahlon in Jerusalem in recent weeks to discuss an economic agreement to boost the Palestinian economy.

Israel's Channel 10 reported Sunday that the two finance ministers have been meeting to discuss an "economic package" Israel is planning to offer to the Palestinian Authority.

Bishara told Ma'an the meetings had taken place, although he denied that several issues reported by Channel 10 had in fact been discussed.

He said the chief objective of the meetings had been to discuss the possibility of reaching a new agreement on Israel's share of tax revenue it collects on the PA's behalf.

Bishara said that Israel currently deducts at least three percent of all PA taxes on exports and imports, amounting to 350 million shekels annually, and his delegation was seeking to reduce this.

He said that Israel also took a significant portion of the travel tax paid by Palestinians when leaving the occupied West Bank via the Allenby Bridge Crossing into Jordan.

However, the minister denied Channel 10's report that he had discussed with Kahlon the possibility of greater integration between Palestinians and Israelis in the construction, medical, and high-tech sectors, including the possibility of a range of study and internship opportunities for young Palestinians.

Israel is reportedly hoping to boost the Palestinian economy in part as a gesture to the Obama administration, which has called repeatedly for Israel to strengthen the Palestinian economy.

Israeli officials are also reportedly hoping it may reduce tensions after months of violence.

In September last year -- just before a wave of unrest swept the occupied Palestinian territory -- the World Bank warned of the "high risk" of renewed Palestine-Israel conflict following the third straight year of increasing poverty among Palestinians.

The World Bank pointed to ongoing restrictions by Israel, as well as reduced donor aid, as having had "a severe impact on the Palestinian economy."

It also pointed to the suspension of the PA's tax revenue -- the same revenue Bishara spoke of on Monday -- which Israel withheld for months last year to punish the PA for seeking to join the International Criminal Court.

The World Bank said: "In short, the status quo is not sustainable and downside risks of further conflict and social unrest are high."
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