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Israeli bill seeking to cut millions in PA funds deemed 'assault' on Palestinian resistance

June 13, 2017 3:15 P.M. (Updated: June 14, 2017 9:57 A.M.)
(File)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- A proposed Israeli law that would cut nearly $300 million to the Palestinian Authority (PA) over funds allocated to the families of Palestinian prisoners of Israel and those who were killed or injured by Israeli forces has been denounced by Palestinian leadership as an “assault” on Palestinian resistance.

Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, is reportedly expected to vote Wednesday on the measure, which would see Israel deduct an estimated 1 billion shekels ($280 million) annually from tax revenues it collects on behalf of the PA -- equivalent to the budget of the controversial “martyrs” compensation program fund managed by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).

Hamas spokesman Hazem Qasim said in a statement on Tuesday that "the Israeli occupation's effort to pass a law to cut allowances of martyrs and prisoners from tax revenues is an assault on the symbols of the Palestinian people and leaders of nationalistic struggle."

He described the move as “a crime of robbery and a futile attempt to break the will of our people and to stop their pursuit of freedom.” Qasim urged the PA not to accept the “occupation government's decisions and requests."

Head of the PA-run Committee of Prisoners’ Affairs Issa Qaraqe also characterized the bill as an act of "privacy and theft," in a Monday interview with Voice of Palestine radio, official Palestinian news agency Wafa reported.

“Israel aims by this act to delegitimize the Palestinian national struggle and to deny the prisoners the right to be identified as prisoners of freedom who have sacrificed to become free from the occupation,” Wafa quoted Qaraqe as saying.

He said Israel ignored the fact that its position as an occupying power was the reason why so many Palestinians were behind bars to begin with.

Qaraqe called for continued support for the families of the prisoners and those killed by Israeli forces. He also called for “prosecuting the Israeli occupation before international courts for the crime of stealing the money of the Palestinian people.”

After Israel’s Ministerial Committee on Legislation advanced the bill on Sunday, Palestinian Prisoner’s Society (PPS) head Qaddura Fares argued the measure was trying to “conflate the issues of the so-called war on terror with the Palestinian martyrs and prisoners who fought for freedom.”

Ahmad Tibi, a member of the Knesset in the Joint List political bloc -- representing parties led by Palestinian citizens of Israel -- told Ma’an in April that the bill was part of a campaign that Israel was launching against Palestinian prisoners while attempting to exert pressure on Palestinian governmental institutions' already shaky financial status.

The social program has been the target of criticism in Israel for years. While the bulk of the program, which had been managed by the PLO since its inception in 1966, was shifted to the PA following the Oslo Peace Accords in 1998, following criticism by the US and the passing of legislation aimed at cutting funds to the PA, the payment distribution was then shifted completely back under PLO management in 2014.

In March, Israeli rights group B’Tselem released a report detailing how Israel has introduced legislation over the past 20 years to avoid paying compensation to Palestinians who have been injured by Israeli forces.

Israel has notably used the payments distributed by the PLO to wounded Palestinians and Palestinians killed by Israeli forces to justify forgoing compensating Palestinians, revealing a clear double standard given the Israeli government’s routine opposition to the same social program.

Israel collects an estimated $2.1 billion in taxes each year on behalf of the PA, according to a 2015 report by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), representing three quarters of the PA’s revenue.

Israel has regularly withheld transferring taxes to apply pressure on the Palestinian government, despite rights groups saying said such punitive measure amounts to “collective punishment.”
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