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US opposes Israeli decision to freeze Palestinian tax revenue

The US State Department said Israel's refusal to transfer tax revenue to the Palestinians will 'raise tensions'
US State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki gives her daily briefing in Washington DC (AFP)

The US said on Monday that it opposed Israel’s decision to freeze the transfer of tax revenues to the Palestinian Authority (PA), which came in response to the latter’s application to join the International Criminal Court (ICC).

“We conveyed to the Israelis that freezing the tax revenues is an action that raises tensions,” State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki told reporters at a daily briefing in Washington. “We oppose any actions that raise tensions and we call on both sides to avoid it.”

Israel announced on 2 January that it would not transfer $127mn of tax revenue that it had collected on behalf of the PA. Officials confirmed that the decision had been made in direct retaliation to the recent Palestinian application to join the ICC.

Psaki said Secretary of State John Kerry had spoken with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about the Palestinian ICC application and added that the US were in contact with the PA about the issue too.

“We would like to prevent it [the ICC application] from moving forward,” Psaki said.

The State Department spokesperson added that the Palestinian ICC application may have “implications on our assistance” to the PA.

“Congress has a great deal of power in that regard,” she said.

The Americans contribute around $400mn in economic aid to the PA each year. US legislation passed in December states that this aid would be halted if the PA seek to bring legal cases against Israel at the ICC.

A senior Israeli official, according to Israeli Haaretz, said on Sunday that they would be “contacting pro-Israel members of the US Congress to ensure the enforcement of legislation” should the Palestinian leadership pursue action against Israel at the ICC.

Chief PA negotiator Saeb Erekat has described the Israeli decision to freeze the transfer of tax revenues as a “war crime” constituting a form of “collective punishment” against the Palestinian people.

Legal experts have said the first case the Palestinians will refer to the ICC will be the “crimes” Israel committed in Gaza during the 50-day conflict in the summer last year. The seven-week Israeli offensive against Gaza killed nearly 2,200 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and 73 on the Israeli side, mostly soldiers.

Israeli prime minister Netanyahu said on Sunday that he will not allow his soldiers to be hauled in front of the ICC on potential war crimes charges.

“We will not let Israel Defence Forces (IDF) soldiers and officers be dragged to the International Criminal Court in The Hague,” he said.

The Palestinian leadership submitted its application to the ICC after the UN Security Council failed to pass a resolution setting a 12-month deadline for a peace deal with Israel and that called for a full Israel withdrawal from the Palestinian territories by the end of 2017. 

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