When the Coffers Run Dry

Apparently, Danny Ayalon was wrong. Should the Palestinian Authority collapse, it really must be the “end of the world” for Israel, to put it in the Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister’s own words. Or at least close. Why else would Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu renege on his decision to withhold Palestinian tax revenues when nothing has actually changed on the ground? The only way to explain it is that Netanyahu, with all of his huffing and puffing, really is scared that the PA will crumble and he will be the first one to blame.

The series of events is no coincidence. First the Palestinians take their statehood bid to the UN in defiance of Israel and the United States. Then Palestine gets full membership in UNESCO, which sets Israel and the US off on another rage, with the US cutting off $60 million from the cultural agency. What’s more, the Palestinians don’t back off. Until today, they are insisting that they will continue to seek full statehood membership in the UN no matter how many times they get shot down.

Meanwhile, Israel continues to punish us, withholding tax revenues that are rightfully Palestinian and which, under the Paris Protocol for economic relations, are to be turned over to the Palestinians almost immediately. The only reason Israel has access to them in the first place is because the Palestinians have no control over borders and must therefore coordinate with the Israelis over everything that goes in and out of the Palestinian areas.

So, why did Netanyahu blink first? It’s true that Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has been voicing concern over the viability of the PA and its organizations should the money –” somewhere in the ballpark of $100 million –” continue to be held hostage. Just yesterday he said his government wouldn’t be able to pay civil servant salaries if the funds didn’t come because sooner or later, those shallow coffers would eventually run dry.

But Netanyahu has no love lost for Fayyad or for any other Palestinian presumably. It is not out of concern for him or for the unfortunate employees whose livelihood depends on the grace of the Israeli government that Netanyahu said he would release the funds. His exact words were that he was “considering” releasing the funds because the Palestinians had not taken any further unilateral moves in international organizations.

There is so much wrong with this equation, it is difficult to pinpoint all the ills. For one, Israel continuously plays the castigator and the disciplinary for the Palestinians’ so-called “bad behavior”. Of course it has no right to assume this role but it seems to get away with it nonetheless. It withholds funds that are rightfully Palestinian even when the US, the UN and Europe have all tried to coax Israel into releasing them, not necessarily on the basis of what is “right” but from a fear that the PA would actually collapse and all of them would be up to their ears in hot water.

What is even worse is the fact that we are so dependent on Israel. We should not have to sit and wait for Israel to release money that is ours in the first place in order to be able to sustain ourselves. This is not the first time we Palestinians teeter on the brink of financial collapse because Israel wants to “teach us a lesson.” And it won’t be the last if we and the international community continue to allow it.

The bottom line is this: Israel is basically stealing Palestinian money by not releasing it while the international community squirms in its seat because it knows it should do something against this outrage and just doesn’t have the gumption to do it. But we also know Israel will release the money eventually because the alternative is just as bad for Israel as it is for us.

That doesn’t solve the problem though. It just means we are safe for now, a temporary fix. Israel will do what’s in its best interest, always and forever. Let’s start doing the same for ourselves.