March 20, 2019

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Trump Envoy to Middle East Lashes Out at Palestinian Authority

Trump Envoy to Middle East Lashes Out at Palestinian Authority
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One of President Trump’s lead Middle East peace negotiators lashed out at the Palestinian Authority on Friday, accusing it of institutionalizing support for terrorism amid a dispute over Israeli tax transfers that make up a significant portion of Palestinian revenues.

Under longstanding accords, Israel makes monthly transfers to the Palestinian Authority from certain taxes it collects related to Palestinians. Last month, Israel announced a freeze on about 5 percent of the tax payout, as punishment for the Palestinian Authority’s policy of paying stipends to Palestinian prisoners in Israel and to the families of Palestinians killed or wounded in confrontations with Israelis.

In response, and despite the authority’s financial problems, the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, rejected the full tax transfer and vowed to continue to pay the stipends.

On Friday, the Trump administration’s Middle East envoy, Jason D. Greenblatt, accused Palestinian leaders of offering the stipends as a reward for acts of terrorism.

“If your citizens were being routinely attacked by terrorists, which of you would tolerate a reward system that compensated the attackers for their crimes?” he wrote in one tweet. “How can we possibly censure Israel for taking the same stance?”

Mr. Greenblatt was in New York on Friday for discussions on the dispute in a closed-door session of the United Nations Security Council, which apparently failed to break the impasse.

Mansour al-Otaibi, Kuwait’s ambassador to the United Nations, told reporters after the session that most members of the Security Council “overwhelmingly” considered the Israeli decision “unacceptable.”

“This is Palestinian money,” he said. “They have the right, the Palestinians, to do whatever they want with their money.”

The tax revenues are generated from the earnings of Palestinian day laborers and merchants who do business in Israel, and from customs duties on Palestinian imports through Israeli ports. But the payouts, which some critics have dubbed a “pay to slay” policy, have long been a source of controversy in Israel.

In July, the Israeli Knesset, or Parliament, approved legislation that would allow the government to withhold a portion of the tax revenue, which makes up about 7 percent of the Palestinian Authority’s annual budget.

The Palestinian Authority’s refusal to accept any of the revenues only adds to its financial woes. It was already struggling after a decision last year by the Trump administration to cut funding for a United Nations agency that provides assistance to millions of Palestinians.

The Trump administration’s hard-line tactics have been led by the president’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner, in an effort to force Palestinians to return to the negotiating table and drop many of their longstanding demands. Such discussions have largely been paused while Mr. Kushner and Mr. Greenblatt put the finishing touches on a long-awaited peace plan.

Their eventual proposal, however, could be dead on arrival: The Palestinian Authority has refused to discuss the plan with American negotiators, in protest over the Trump administration’s decision in December 2017 to formally recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the United States Embassy there from Tel Aviv.





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