[JURIST] Israeli officials announced on Saturday that Israel will withhold the transfer of tax revenues to the government of the Palestinian Authority. The withholding of $127 million collected on behalf of the Palestinian Authority (PA) is a strategic response [Haaretz report] to Palestine’s application to join the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] submitted on Friday. The decision to withhold the payments was made by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu [BBC profile] during a special meeting [Breaking Israel News report] to discuss the Israeli response to the Palestinian Authority’s unilateral move. Joining the ICC is considered to be one of the strongest forms of political pressure the PA can impose [WSJ report] on Israel. Both Israel and the US opposed [BBC report] the application, which is likely a precursor to the filing of war-crime charges by the PA against Israel before the ICC. Over the past decade, Israel has withheld similar tax payments as a means to pressure the PA. The funds are derived from taxes Israel collects on behalf of the Palestinians and are crucial [Deutsche Welle report] to the activities of the Palestinian Authority’s government, including the payment of civil servants’ salaries. These payments are required under the interim peace accords between Israel and the PA. The threat of future prosecution by the PA against Israel before the ICC is filled with complex legal obstacles [Times of Israel report], whereas the withheld tax payments pose an immediate threat to the PA.
In recent months the conflict between Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory have led to the deaths of hundreds of civilians, prompting the UN and the international community to call for an end to the conflict. Each country has accused the other of committing war crimes during the 2014 conflict. Last week Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas signed [JURIST report] the Rome Statute [text, PDF] to officially join the ICC at a meeting in Ramallah. In November Amnesty International accused [JURIST report] Israel of committing war crimes during the 2014 Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a report entitled “Families Under Rubble: Israeli Attacks on Inhabited Homes.” In August UN Special Rapporteur on the Palestinian Territories occupied since 1967 formally requested access [JURIST report] to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory to gather first-hand information on the human rights situation in Gaza.