JERUSALEM – Israel branded the Palestinian government a “terrorist authority” Sunday and halted the transfer of hundreds of millions of dollars in tax money after Hamas took control of the Palestinian Parliament.
The Israeli Cabinet decided to stop the transfer of the roughly $55 million a month it collects in taxes and tariffs on behalf of the Palestinian Authority. The order did not specify when the payments would stop, but government spokesman Asaf Shariv said the next payment, scheduled for early March, “won’t take place.”
Army Radio quoted Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz saying the cutoff would be reviewed each month.
The Palestinian Authority relies on that money to help pay the salaries of about 140,000 government employees, including about 57,000 in the security forces.
Should the government, the Palestinians’ largest employer, be forced to lay off tens of thousands of workers, it would lead to increased chaos and poverty in Palestinian towns throughout the West Bank and Gaza.
The Cabinet also decided to ask the international community to stop giving money to the Palestinians, though it said humanitarian aid should continue. Hamas is listed as a terror organization by the United States and the European Union, and many Western countries have threatened to cut off hundreds of millions of dollars in funding for the Palestinian Authority if the group does not moderate.
On Sunday, Abbas said the Palestinian government has agreed to return $50 million in special aid given by the U.S. government, as requested by the United States after Hamas’ election win.
The sanctions came as Hamas worked to consolidate its power and form a government, nominating one of its more pragmatic leaders, Ismail Haniyeh, to be the new prime minister. Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, was scheduled to meet with Haniyeh today and formally ask him to assemble a Cabinet.
Also Sunday, Israeli troops killed four Palestinians in two separate incidents.