PA Rejects Israeli Aid Offer Contingent on Ending Anti-Israel Stance
Despite pressure by far-right coalition partners on Prime Minister Netanyahu not to make concessions, Security Cabinet votes to support the Palestinian Authority with economic, travel, and security measures
By Keren Setton/The Media Line
Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh, in his weekly government meeting on Monday, rejected an Israeli Security Cabinet decision to extend funds to the PA and ease travel and security measures, due to the strings Israel attached to its gesture, which called on the PA to end its anti-Israel activities.
Shtayyeh said that this would not happen and that the PA would move on with its decisions.
“The money withheld by Israel is our money, and Israel must transfer it to us without extortion or conditions, and our people are fully aware of the facts of the matter and reject this extortion,” he said.
Israel’s Security Cabinet on Sunday adopted a decision to “act to prevent the collapse of the Palestinian Authority” while at the same time “demanding that it cease its anti-Israel activity in the international legal-diplomatic arena.”
The draft decision, submitted by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, was adopted by a majority of eight to one, with one abstention.
The decision appeared to be a blow to Netanyahu’s far-right coalition partners Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, who had been demanding harsh measures against the Palestinians, in favor of Israel’s defense and security officials, who have been warning for months that the collapse of the PA would create a power vacuum in the West Bank that would likely be seized upon by extremist groups and force Israel into a much larger predicament.
The decision stated: “In the absence of a change in the national assessment, Israel will act to prevent the collapse of the Palestinian Authority, while demanding that it cease its anti-Israel activity in the international legal-diplomatic arena, the incitement in its media and education system, the payments to the families of terrorists and murderers, and the illegal construction in Area C [the 61% of the West Bank under full Israeli control].”
Before the Security Cabinet meeting, Israeli media reported that among the measures expected to be discussed were a new industrial zone in the West Bank city of Hebron, extending the operating hours of the crossing between the West Bank and Jordan, and advancing the development of the natural gas field off the Gaza Strip coast, a measure key to enabling the Palestinians to power their territories and perhaps even export gas eventually.
Netanyahu reportedly assured his senior coalition partners that there would be no concessions to the Palestinians. However, the Security Cabinet ultimately adopted several proposals to stabilize the PA, including economic, travel, and security measures.
Many Israelis accuse the PA of condoning terrorism by paying stipends to the families of Palestinians who have engaged in violence against Israelis.
Before the meeting on Sunday, Ben-Gvir called the proposed measures to prop up the PA “delusional,” tweeting: “There is no greater absurdity than the fact that the body that encourages terrorism … would win a basket of benefits in the midst of a terrorist wave.”
The PA has been on the brink of collapse for months, with both Palestinians and Israelis warning that the situation is dire, and a collapse would have major implications for all sides.
“The more financial distress [there is] and the more the Palestinian economy is suffocated, there is greater resistance and greater involvement in political violence toward Israelis. The current policy of fighting and subduing the Palestinians does not work,” said Dr. Sami Miaari, a senior lecturer at Tel Aviv University and CEO of the Arab Economic Forum.
Speaking of the measures to support the PA, Miaari said: “You have to start somewhere, otherwise the situation will boomerang.”
The Security Cabinet meeting came against a background of escalating violence and a major Israeli push for settlement construction in the West Bank.
Last week, in response to attacks by Palestinians that have killed 25 people since the beginning of this year, the Israeli military conducted a large raid in the West Bank city of Jenin, from where many of the attacks stemmed and over which the PA has largely lost control. Meanwhile, over 135 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces since the beginning of 2023, 12 of them in last week’s raid.
“The talk about gestures comes from immense pressure from the [Israeli] defense establishment, which wants to strengthen the PA in order to take the pressure and the burden off itself,” said Dr. Omer Zanany, director of the Israeli-Palestinian Peacemaking Program at Mitvim, the Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies.
“There is an understanding that last week’s raid might be the first in a series in which Israel will be sucked into further involvement in the West Bank. The military is not interested in this,” he said.
Should the PA collapse, Israel does not want the extremist Hamas, which already rules the Gaza Strip, to take over the West Bank. But neither does it want to step in and rule over the 3 million Palestinians who live in the territory.
Although Netanyahu may realize the need to alleviate pressure on the PA, he is dependent on his coalition partners for other pressing needs, such as his ongoing corruption trial and the judicial overhaul he is seeking to promote.
“There is a gap between Netanyahu, who wants to manage the conflict without reaching a political solution to the problem, and his partners, who see the PA as the main threat to their ability to realize their goal of the full annexation of the territories,” Zanany said.
Zanany also said the Israeli support was “a tactical move that is supposed to relieve the pressure. In parallel, settlement construction has increased and there is no political solution on the horizon.”
Smotrich and Ben-Gvir represent the extreme right of the current coalition. Smotrich is an ultra-right-wing nationalist who aims to reclaim Israeli control of all of the West Bank and seeks the dismantling of the PA. Ben-Gvir has demanded an “iron fist” against Palestinians.
Earlier this year, the government decided to sanction the PA over its referral to the International Court of Justice on the legality of the Israeli presence in the West Bank. The punitive measures included withholding $40 million in tax revenue and diverting it to Israeli victims of Palestinian terrorism, freezing construction plans for Palestinians in areas of the West Bank that are governed by both the PA and Israel, and revoking benefits for senior Palestinian officials.
Israel has also been under pressure from the United States to make concessions to the Palestinians. Last week, in a telephone conversation with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin emphasized the need for Israeli and Palestinian leaders to work together to defuse the situation and to take tangible steps to strengthen security for Israelis and Palestinians alike.
On Sunday, US President Joe Biden attacked the Netanyahu government in an interview with CNN, describing the government as Israel’s “most extreme” ever and saying that Netanyahu’s coalition partners were “part of the problem.”
According to Peace Now, a left-wing Israeli NGO that monitors settlement construction, 2023 has already broken records, with more than 13,000 units promoted in the West Bank since the beginning of the year.
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