The Obama administration is weighing whether to cut its annual $440 million financial package to the Palestinians because of their effort to join the International Criminal Court to pursue war-crimes charges against Israel, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Monday.
“The next step would be Congress deciding what step or action they may take as it relates to assistance," she said.
And under American law, any Palestinian case against Israel there would trigger an immediate US aid cutoff. But Palestinian membership, by itself, doesn't incur an automatic US punishment.
She also criticized Israel for freezing tax revenues to Palestinians. "We oppose any actions that raise tensions and we call on both sides to avoid it," she said.
Israel has frozen the transfer of half a billion shekels (about $125 million) from tax funds collected on behalf of the PA by Israel and distributed every month, in response to the Palestinians' request. The frozen funds were scheduled to go through this month, but the decision was made Thursday during a discussion convened by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin himself harshly criticized on Monday the decision to freeze tax revenues to the Palestinians.
"(Palestinian Authority President) Abbas is trying to reach a forced arrangement and his requests (to the Security Council and ICC) are a breach of the Oslo Accords, which supposedly justifies punitive action. But the punitive actions should suit Israel's interests. Delaying the transfer of tax money, for example, does not benefit us, or them," Rivlin said at a meeting with current and future Israeli ambassadors to Europe.
The Palestinian decision to join The Hague court came after the UN Security Council rejected setting a three-year deadline for an Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian-claimed lands.
The Palestinians delivered to UN headquarters in New York on Friday documents on joining the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and other global treaties, saying they hoped to achieve "justice for all the victims that have been killed by Israel, the occupying power". The Hague-based court looks at cases of severe war crimes and crimes against humanity such as genocide.
Israel fiercely opposes the Palestinian membership at the court.
Shurat HaDin files ICC complaint against Palestinians
An Israeli official told Reuters the Palestinian leaders "ought to fear legal steps" after their decision to sign onto the Rome Statute.
"Israel is weighing the possibilities for large-scale prosecution in the United States and elsewhere" of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and other senior Palestinians, the official said.
Israel would probably press these cases via non-governmental groups and pro-Israel legal organizations capable of filing lawsuits abroad, a second Israeli official said, explaining how the mechanism might work.
So it was no surprise Monday when Israel-based Shurat HaDin Law Center has filed a war crimes complaint at the International Criminal Court in The Hague against PLO leaders Jibril Rajoub, Majid Faraj and Rami Hamdallah, the current Palestinian prime minister, it accuses of terrorism, torture and civil rights violations.
The suit follows similar complaints the group previously filed against Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
The move appears to be a longshot as the court receives thousands of such requests and rarely takes action. But it comes a week after the Palestinians announced they would be joining the international court to pursue war-crimes charges against Israel.
The Palestinians had no immediate comment to the allegations.
Reuters contributed to this report.