REPORTING FROM RAMALLAH, WEST BANK -– A cash-strapped Palestinian Authority and more than 150,000 public employees got a reprieve Wednesday as Israel approved the release of about $200 million in taxes collected during October and November.
The Israeli forum of eight ministers approved the transfer of the funds to the Palestinian Authority. A statement issued by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said the approval came as a result of “the halt in unilateral steps by the Palestinian Authority.”
Israel froze the funds after the United Nations Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization voted on Oct. 31 to admit Palestine as full member, which Israel said was a unilateral move, and after Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas started steps to reconcile their differences.
Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad had warned that without release of these funds he would not be able to pay the November salaries of public employees or meet other important financial obligations, which he said could harm the Palestinian Authority.
Israel was under international pressure to release the funds.
Tony Blair, representative of the so-called Mideast quartet consisting of the United States, European Union, U.N. and Russia, said Netanyahu and other ministers have been urged "to transfer these funds without delay.”
He said in a statement that “this is Palestinian money which is critical to sustaining the Palestinian Authority and should be transferred on a regular and predictable basis,” emphasizing that “withholding these funds only benefits those who oppose peace and Israeli-Palestinian cooperation.”
Abbas on Wednesday met with Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni in the Jordanian capital Amman to discuss the future of the peace process.
Abbas reiterated to Livni his insistence that without an Israeli freeze on settlement expansion, there will not be a peace process, according to Palestinian officials present in the meeting.
Livni raised the issue of Abbas' reconciliation with Hamas, saying that it would not be helpful to efforts to revive the peace process.
Abbas told Livni that the reconciliation is an important pillar of the peace process and is in the interest of the Palestinian people. He also rejected her claims that seeking United Nations membership was a unilateral move, saying that the move was important for the two-state solution and the peace process in general.
The Palestinians suspended plans to seek membership in U.N. agencies after their successful UNESCO bid, and have said they are considering options such as pursuing full membership in the U.N.
-- Maher Abukhater
Photo: Israeli Kadima party Chairwoman Tzipi Livni and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas meet on Nov. 30, 2011, in Amman, Jordan. Credit: AFP/Getty Images