Israel will transfer part of the tax revenues it has collected on behalf of the Palestinians to the Palestinian Authority, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni announced Wednesday evening. However, the funds will be channeled only to humanitarian projects in the PA, through the special mechanism set up by the international Quartet.
Defense Minister Amir Peretz ordered Major-General Yosef Mishlav, the coordinator of government activities in the territories, to draft a plan for humanitarian aid to the Palestinian Authority, in the framework of which NIS 50 million (roughly USD 11 million) of Palestinian tax revenues will be transferred to the PA.
The defense minister's office reported that the plan would be brought for government approval in its next meeting on Sunday, and that it would focus on payments to the healthcare system and the supply of medical assistance and medicines to the Palestinians.
Peretz's declaration represents the first practical step Israel takes in its effort to prove to the international community it is trying to address the humanitarian crisis in the PA. The country will simultaneously step up public relations activities in embassies overseas, in a bid to account for its policy.
The decision to suspend the transfer of tax money to the Palestinians was taken by the government on February 19. At the meeting, the cabinet agreed to halt all fund transfer to the PA, with the exception of aid to humanitarian groups operating in the territories.
Minister Livni said that Israel's decision to move money to the Palestinians is the result of international pressure exerted on Israel, in wake of the developing crisis in the PA stemming from a global financial blockade on the Hamas-led government.
One of the main considerations that influenced the decision, Jerusalem officials admitted, was reports from Israeli missions across the world that the country's image was deteriorating in light of the worsening humanitarian situation in the PA.
'Image of hungry child hard to deal with'
Minister Livni said Wednesday that she informed the Quartet's ministers of her willingness to release the PA's tax funds for humanitarian causes only.
In an interview to Channel 10, Livni said: "The images of a hungry child, or of someone rummaging through garbage bins, are ones it is very difficult to deal with."
"I made it clear to the Quartet's ministers with whom I spoke ahead of the meeting, that as we were not looking to punish the Palestinian population, the funds can be used to pay for electricity, water supply, hospitals, medical treatment in Israel, etc," Livni explained.
"We are willing to have these funds used for direct humanitarian purposes, such as medicines and healthcare needs. Israel will not allow for this money to go toward paying salaries," the minister stressed, adding that it was important for her to get the message through that "Israel has no intention of hurting the Palestinian people."
'Talks with Abbas possible'
Turning her attention to the matter of possible negotiations with PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, Livni said she has no objection to meeting with the Palestinian leader.
There is no personal boycott on Abbas, Livni said. "I do not rule out the option of meeting Abbas. I will have no problem meeting with him. But the question is not whether or not such a meeting takes place. Abbas does not want to talk about humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian public, he wants us to engage in negotiations over a permanent settlement now," she stated.
"By the way," she added, "Abbas also has a lot of money in a Palestinian investment fund, which can be used to pay for all of the government workers' salaries. Abbas refuses to pass the money to the Authority."