A week and a half after Hamas' stunning elections victory, Israel decided to nonetheless hand over tax money collected on behalf of the Palestinians to the PA.
The decision on the fund transfer to the tune of no less than NIS 250 million (about USD 65 million) was taken Sunday in a special meeting
headed by Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Foreign and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz also took part in the session, along with senior security officials and special advisor Dov Weisglass.
Israel delayed the transfer of the funds for five days while exerting behind-the-scenes pressure on the international community to refrain from funding a Hamas-led Palestinian Authority. However, at this time it was decide to go ahead with the fund transfer because a Hamas government has not yet been formed. In addition, no legal reason to curb the transfers was found.
The decision already prompted scathing criticism by Likud and right-wing parliamentarians.
The funds in question were collected by Israel on behalf of the Palestinian Authority at Gaza and West Bank crossings as part of agreements signed between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization. Israel has been handing over the money at the beginning of each month since the signing of the Paris Agreement in 1995.
Things may changes with Hamas in power
The decision to hand over the funds was also intended to signal to the world, on the eve of Livni's trip to Washington, that Israel will be seeking to maintain the stability of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas' regime.
Although the move was unanimously approved by the ministers, they ruled that all future transfers will be debated separately. The working assumption is that the transfers will be halted once Hamas assumes power, for fear the money would be used to finance terror activity.
Meanwhile, Housing and Construction Minister Ze'ev Boim said Israel will be transferring the funds because a Hamas government has not yet been formed.
"This is the last payment that is being forwarded to the (Palestinian) Authority under the current format," he said. "With Hamas in power, not eve one shekel will be transferred to them."
The position articulated by Boim is apparently also acceptable to the United States.