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Israeli president slams decision to withhold Palestinian tax revenue

Israeli president slams decision to withhold Palestinian tax revenue

Jerusalem: Israeli President Reuven Rivlin slammed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's decision to withhold tax money from the Palestinian Authority (PA) in response to the latter's bid to join the International Criminal Court (ICC) Monday.

Rivlin told a group of more than 30 Israeli envoys to Europe in a meeting that while he objects to the Palestinian bid, the withholding of half a billion shekels (about 128 million US dollars) worth of Palestinian tax revenue was damaging to Israel, Xinhua reported citing Ha'aretz daily.

The president criticised the Palestinian move, which he said was in violation of the 1993 Oslo Accords and a means for Palestinians to "thwart direct negotiations" and call the shots unilaterally, adding that Israel would respond.

However, he said, the move Netanyahu decided upon over the weekend of withholding tax revenue Israel collects on behalf of the PA, will damage Israel's interests.

"Freezing the transfer of Palestinians tax funds neither benefits us nor them," Rivlin said, adding that "Palestinians use these funds to sustain themselves and keep the PA functioning. Israel's interest is a functioning PA."

Over the weekend, Israel announced it was withholding the funds in collects on behalf of the PA for the month of December. The arrangement whereby Israel collects tax money for the PA was established in the 1993 Oslo Accords.

According to Israeli officials, Netanyahu decided on the move following a meeting held Thursday discussing Israel's course of action in response to the PA's request to join the ICC in the Hague.

The last time Israel attempted a similar move was in April, following the PA's reconciliation with Hamas and the establishment of the Palestinian Unity Government in April. Israel fought against Hamas for two months last summer.

Joining the ICC would mean that Palestinians could file complaints against Israelis for violating international law or committing war crimes and crimes against humanity towards Palestinians in the territories Israel occupied in the 1967 Mideast War in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip (from which Israel withdrew its forces unilaterally in 2005) and annexed in east Jerusalem.

Palestinians asked to join the ICC the day after the UN Security Council rejected the PA's resolution to have Israel withdrawn from the West Bank and east Jerusalem until the end of 2017, in order for a Palestinian state to be established unilaterally.

The PA had taken on several diplomatic initiatives and asked to join international bodies following the collapse of the peace talks with Israel in April, after nine months of US-mediated negotiations.

Palestinians blamed Israel for stalling the negotiations, making extensive security demands and expanding its settlement construction on lands slated to be part of the future Palestinian state.

Israel, for its part, accused Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for incitement over several deadly militant attacks against Israelis that occurred in the past several months. It criticised the diplomatic moves, deeming them attacks and stating that only negotiations, rather than unilateral moves, could end the conflict.

Israeli officials additionally blamed Abbas for not officially recognising Israel as the state of the Jewish land and cited no partner for peace talks among reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas, which Israel regards as a terrorist organisation and pledges its destruction.

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