Israel to withhold $180 million in Palestinian funds over alleged 'militants' pay
Israel will withhold funds it collected last year on behalf of the Palestinian Authority to offset stipends it believes were paid to families of alleged Palestinian militants, the Israeli cabinet said on Sunday.
Tel Aviv will deduct 597m shekels ($181.9m), which it estimates is how much the PA has paid in stipends to the families of Palestinians it regards as "militants", according to the Israeli Haaretz newspaper.
In its decision, Israel's Security Cabinet approved a recommendation by Defence Minister Benny Gantz to halt what it called "indirect support of terrorism" in 2020.
Israel collects taxes on behalf of the PA under a peace deal from the 1990s. It usually hands them over monthly, and these make up more than half of the budget of the PA.
Israel has regularly withheld sums, alleging that funds have been going to the families of jailed or killed Palestinians. In December 2020, when cooperation between Tel Aviv and the PA resumed, Israel paid back the sums previously deducted.
Qadri Abu Baker, head of prisoners' affairs in the Palestine Liberation Organisation, called the Israeli measure a crime of "terror and piracy".
Palestinians see the payments as a necessary welfare system to assist families affected by the conflict. The PA maintains that the number of prisoners involved in deadly attacks is a small percentage of those helped by the fund.
UN human rights experts have previously slammed Israel's policy of collective punishment against the Palestinians, saying it "achieved nothing but deeper tensions and an atmosphere conducive to further violence".
"Only the guilty can be punished for their acts, and only after a fair process. The innocent can never be made to be punished for the deeds of others," said Michael Lynk, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967.
In 2020, Israel demolished 848 Palestinian homes in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, displacing 996 people, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
Israeli authorities have conducted hundreds of raids throughout the West Bank to arrest Palestinians.
Some 4,300 Palestinians, including 397 administrative detainees held without charge or trial, were in Israeli prisons in 2020, according to the Israel Prison Service. This violates international humanitarian law, which prohibits the transfer of detainees into the territory of the occupying power, according to Amnesty International.