Daniella Cheslow Multimedia Journalist

Daniella Cheslow
Israel freezes £53m over Fatah-Hamas mend

Israel has suspended the routine transfer of about £53 million in tax revenue to the Palestinian Authority in response to a reconciliation deal between the rival factions Fatah and Hamas.Published at The Times of London

The two Palestinian movements began repairing their four-year rift on Thursday last week, to the anger of Israeli leaders who said that the Hamas charter still called for the destruction of the Jewish state.

Yuval Steinitz, the Israeli Finance Minister, said that his office was checking to make sure taxes would not reach Hamas. Members of Hamas and other organisations in Gaza frequently fire rockets at Israeli border towns and last month a 16-year-old Israeli student died when a rocket hit a bus.

“The burden of proof that the funds we transfer . . . will not get to terrorist organisations, to terrorists or to buying of rockets they later fire on Sderot or Ashkelon or Ashdod — the burden of proof is on the Palestinians,” said Mr Steinitz, who postponed a meeting to co-ordinate the transfer of the funds by a week.

Under the interim peace arrangements signed in the 1990s Israel collects taxes and customs for the Palestinian Authority at points of entry to the country and then reimburses the Palestinians regularly. The funds total at least £600 million each year, according to Israeli media. Israel has suspended the tax transfer in the past to protest against Palestinian actions.

The Israeli Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, echoed Mr Steinitz’s concerns at his weekly Cabinet meeting.

“The reconciliation signed recently between Hamas, which calls for destroying the state of Israel, and the Fatah movement has to worry not just all of Israel’s citizens, but also all in the world who aspire to see peace between us and our neighbours, the Palestinians,” he said.

The Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority, Salam Fayyad, denounced the move and said that it would not stop the reconciliation process. He said that he was reaching out to “all international influential forces and parties to stop Israel from taking these measures”.

Hamas and Fatah split when the militant Islamic Hamas violently seized control of the Gaza Strip. Last week the two rivals mended their ties with the help of Egyptian mediators. The full terms of the reconciliation agreement have not yet been released but the two are scheduled to sign an agreement on Wednesday in Cairo. The deal is reported to include a call for an interim government that will rule for up to a year before general elections across the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

The successful brokering of the rapprochement by Egypt is another sign of the changing spirit in the Middle East after the fall of the former Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak, an ally of Israel. In an interview with al-Jazeera on Friday, Nabil al-Arabi, the Egyptian Foreign Minister, said that Cairo was considering reopening its border with the Gaza Strip. This will erode a blockade that Israel and Egypt have maintained on Gaza since 2007.

The rift between Fatah in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza made it possible for Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority President, to negotiate with Israel in the name of the Palestinian people. Israel refuses to hold talks with Hamas, something that will make negotiations with a Palestinian unity government problematic.

Photo by Ashraf Amra / Demotix, published at thetimes.co.uk.