Those aren’t my words, they’re the words of Amira Haas, Haaretz’s Ramallah correspondent (and the only Israeli reporter who actually lives in the Palestinian Territories) in her Los Angeles Times article, Palestinians Are Being Robbed by Israel. In the article, she describes why Israel has come to collect $50-million a month in Palestinian excise duties. It’s quite arcane:
According to the Oslo accords (and by any standards of common sense and basic justice), the revenues should serve the people who ultimately buy the goods. These tax receipts are not donations of goodwill from Israel; they are not charity…These are tax revenues that are due to the people in the territories where the goods are headed, and the Israelis have no right to hold them up.
Since 1994, these revenues, transferred each month from the Israeli Ministry of Finance, have made up a critical portion of the Palestinian Authority budget. When Israel briefly stopped transferring the revenues in 2001, pressure from the EU and other countries — including the U.S. — forced Israel to reverse its decision. Unfortunately, after the Hamas victory, such pressure seems unlikely.
Since Palestine has no ports of its own, all imported goods must come through Israeli ones. Israel charges VAT on all imported goods including those meant for Palestinians. But under an international agreement, Israel has agreed to remit these funds to the PA each month. The money is clearly the Palestinians. Israel’s withholding of it is a blatant violation of this agreement and common decency (but certainly not something which disturbs the consciences of Israeli cabinet officials who approved the withholding).
And lest you think that these funds are not significant, Haas points out that “last year, the $711 million constituted almost two-thirds of the Palestinian Authority’s revenues.” So in effect, Israel has already begun its effort to topple the new Hamas government. While there are mixed signals coming from various politicians and some analysts say Israel is playing a wait and see game, I think this act of withholding tax payments is a covert but nonetheless highly prejudicial act against the Palestinian people.
I am pleased to read in the NY Times that Condi Rice (many of whose Israeli-Palestinian moves I’ve been applauding here for the past few months) was rebuffed by the Egyptians and Saudis in her effort to further isolate Hamas and turn off the financial spigot. This policy of bringing Hamas to its knees is absolutely wrong-headed and deserves to fail.
Here is a 2002 Telegraph article which lays out the whole depressing story of Palestinian poverty. I’m sure it has only become worse in the ensuing 4 years.
When I denounced Dov Weisglass’ despicable comments about what Israeli policy toward Hamas should be:
“It’s like a meeting with a dietitian. We need to make the Palestinians lose weight, but not to starve to death.”
I was thinking of this type of information which Haas uses to conclude her column:
In the Palestinian territories, 35% of residents between the ages of 20 and 24 were unemployed during the third quarter of 2005. About 43% live below the World Bank’s poverty line, and 15% live in deep poverty — which means, according to the World Bank, that they are unable to meet subsistence needs.
By taking their meager — but undoubtedly their own — revenues, Israel does not punish Hamas or persuade it to change its positions. It simply gives the Palestinians another reason to regard Israel as an aggressive and repressive occupying power.
You joke about a man who’s starving by saying he needs to go on a diet, but not to starve to death–now that’s utterly charming. If only big fat Dov could ever know what it’s like to not be able to feed himself or his children. Then I’d feel there was divine justice.
Nice post Richard, very compassionate. I touched on this issue yesterday while writing about Condi’s mission to add to the poverty and unemployment in the region (these guys are really good at creating poverty and unemployment):
Not paying back the taxes is their decision – they have to live with their decisions every day and suffer the results or benefits thereof. They can, and will continue to blame Palestinians for the same predictable violence while ignoring the very instigations, insults, forced poverty and hunger and violence that brings it about in the first place. Pretty typical stuff really.