21:46 GMT29 January 2020
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    While relations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority seem to be fraying following Israel's expansion policy in the West Bank, the Jewish state's defense minister Naftali Bennett has added fuel to the fire by proposing a bill that could put security cooperation between the two sides at risk.

    The proposal that has been approved by Israel's cabinet earlier today calls for cutting the transfer of more than $45 million in tax money to the Palestinian Authority as a means to punish the Palestinian leadership for its "support for terror."

    Israel says the tax revenues it collects for the Palestinians from imports that reach the West Bank and Hamas-run Gaza Strip via Israeli ports go to fund Palestinian prisoners jailed in Israel for security offenses, including those who have carried out deadly attacks on Israelis. Palestinians don't deny these allegations but stress that the cash is essential for families that have lost a bread-winner.

    Funding Palestinian Terror?

    Bennett, known for his support of Israel's settlement activity, denial of Palestinian refugees' right of return and other hawkish policies, promises to change this "pay for slay" approach, deducting the $45 million from the annual $550 million that Israel transfers under the Protocol on Economic Relations, which was signed between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization in 1994. 

    But Mustafa Barghouti, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, says Israel's "grabbing technique" is nothing new.

    "This is not the first time they are doing this. Israel is supposed to get three percent for its collection of the Palestinian money but they want to steal it all, and this theft has no legal justification," he said over the phone.

    Earlier this year, Israel stopped the transfer of $144 million to the Palestinian Authority for a similar reason. In response, President Mahmoud Abbas announced he would stop accepting all cash flowing from Israel but later backtracked on his decision.

    Punishing the Poor

    Yet, Barghouti believes the Palestinian people need every penny of this money. "The Palestinian people are poor and deprived so every dollar can help their staggering economy."

    Palestinian Authority's spokesman Ibrahim Melhem echoed Barghouti's concerns. "The move will hamper our ability to pay salaries to the PA's employees in full," he said adding that the measure will lead to dire economic situation for all Palestinians.

    According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, unemployment in the West Bank reached more than 17 percent in 2018. Poverty is yet another headache with 5.8 percent of Palestinians in the West Bank living in deep poverty. That's why the deduction of more than 6 percent from the Palestinian Authority's total budget, which stood at $8 billion in 2018, can make a difference.

    The reason behind the move, Barghouti believes, is Israel's intention to put pressure on the Palestinians and "strangle them" economically.

    "This comes in addition to their settlement activity and the ongoing annexation of the Palestinian land."

    At the beginning of December, Bennett had approved the establishment of a new Jewish neighborhood in Hebron, considered one of the main Palestinian cities in the West Bank. Over the years, the Jewish presence in the area has grown and now stands at 500,000 people, but still only comprises a quarter of the West Bank's total population, which is predominately Palestinian.

    Cooperation Under Question

    "Eventually this will need to stop," warned Barghouti, noting that the PA's security cooperation with Israel is now under question.

    Throughout the years, Palestinian security forces have proven to be reliable partners for Israel's intelligence agencies, helping them collect counter-terrorism information and foil terror attacks. They also assist Tel Aviv in curbing the common threat of Hamas, operational in the West Bank, and provided the intel that led to November's targeted killing of a high profile commander of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Baha Abu al Atta.

    "Many in the Palestinian Authority are already questioning the necessity of our security cooperation with Israel, and such measures [deduction of funds] do not contribute to the improvement of ties. Quite the opposite: they will have dire consequences on this collaboration."

    The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

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