U.S. raps Israel’s decision to freeze Palestinian tax revenues

Marcy Oster

(JTA) — The Obama administration came out against Israel’s decision to freeze some $125 million in Palestinian tax revenues in response to the Palestinian Authority’s request to join the International Criminal Court.

“We oppose any actions that raise tensions and we call on both sides to avoid it,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters Monday at a regular daily briefing.

Psaki said Secretary of State John Kerry and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke over the weekend and discussed the P.A.’s recent moves to join the court, along with nearly 20 other international treaties and conventions, after the United Nations Security Council failed to pass a Palestinian statehood proposal.

The United States would “like to prevent” the Palestinians’ bid to join the ICC “from moving forward,” she said, adding that the effort could cause “implications on our assistance.”

“Congress holds a great deal of power in this regard,” Psaki said, adding that while Kerry could take some unilateral steps, “overall, the first step would be Congress.”

Congressional appropriations law states that the Palestinian Authority could forfeit up to $400 million in annual aid initiating any action against Israel at the ICC.

An unnamed senior Israeli official told the Israeli daily Haaretz on Sunday that Israel would be contacting pro-Israel members of Congress to ensure the enforcement of the legislation.

The withheld tax money, which is used to pay public sector employees, was to have been transferred to the Palestinian Authority on Jan 2. Israel has frozen P.A. tax revenues before as a retaliatory measure.