Israel Pulse

Why Israel's PA tax freeze will backfire

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Article Summary
Israeli politicians cling to the assumption that punitive measures against the Palestinian Authority will create deterrence and prevent its leadership from diplomatic moves, not realizing that such an approach causes Israel strategic damage.

There’s nothing that a proud Israeli such as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, for example, hates more than being a sucker. The prime minister even knows how to say in Farsi, “We are not suckers.” An Israeli who stands tall like Netanyahu does not ignore an attempt by the cheeky neighbors to turn the West Bank and East Jerusalem — or rather, Judea and Samaria and united Jerusalem, Israel’s eternal capital — into an independent Palestinian state along the 1967 borders. A “strong leader” such as Netanyahu does not just move on after the Palestinian Authority (PA) dares request to join the International Criminal Court (ICC). He’s not some sort of defeatist who gives thanks for rain whenever someone spits at him. All he needs now is Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett to produce a clip portraying him as a leftist who apologizes to non-Jews.

It is worth noting Netanyahu is not threatening that if the Palestinians submit complaints of Israeli war crimes to the ICC, they will be forced to contend with far worse complaints Israel will submit against them. The prime minister undoubtedly understands that the very act of complaint to the court against a resident of the PA, based on the Rome Statute, constitutes recognition that the PA is a state. In November 2012, Israel even strenuously objected to the upgrading of the PA’s status from that of observer to a nonmember state at the UN. A senior Foreign Ministry official told Al-Monitor over the weekend that although Israel has an excellent “case” against the PA, especially given that it formed a reconciliation government with Hamas, legal experts recommend keeping a safe distance from the ICC.

Absent an international legal enforcement avenue, the Israeli government has assumed the right to impose punishments on the Palestinian side, as a lesson for all to see. The problem is that the Palestinian appeal to the UN on Dec. 31 and their decision to join the ICC, prove that freezing tax revenues is not effective punishment. In 2012, Israel also claimed that the Palestinian move was a “unilateral step” in violation of the Oslo Accord. Then, too, the government decided to hit the Palestinians where they hurt — in their pocket — and froze the transfer of the taxes it collects on their behalf at the border crossings. Nonetheless, after the diplomatic initiative of US Secretary of State John Kerry ran aground, and after the Arab Peace Initiative was harnessed onto the Israeli election campaign, the Palestinians renewed their struggle in the international arena.

As mentioned here, in 2002, during the final stages of the second intifada, then-military Chief of Staff Moshe Ya’alon said that Israel’s paramount goal was to etch the Palestinian consciousness with the understanding ''that terrorism and violence will not defeat us, will not make us fold.” President Mahmoud Abbas did not require Ya’alon’s musings to internalize the obvious fact that the Palestinians were unable to defeat the strongest army in the Middle East. Since replacing late PLO leader Yasser Arafat as president, Abbas has been doing everything possible — openly and covertly — to foil terror and to replace violence with diplomacy. Ya’alon is now a senior member of a government that wishes to etch in the Palestinian consciousness that the use of what Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman calls “diplomatic terrorism” will also cost them dearly.

Using the strategy of “consciousness etching,” or deterrence, toward millions who have lost all hope of an improvement of their political, security, economic and social circumstances could turn overnight into a double-edged sword. In an extensive position paper published on behalf of the research center of the National Defense College, the commander of Israel’s military colleges, Maj. Gen. Yossi Baidatz, and Dima Adamsky are sharply critical of the deterrence concept that still prevails in Israel’s decision-making centers. The former head of Military Intelligence research and the senior lecturer on defense and strategy studies at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya warn that the traditional approach to deterrence “could result in strategic damage.” They argue that not only does deterrence not resolve basic problems with rivals, it “nurtures an illusion that could create a sense of self-satisfaction among the leaders, thereby saving them the need to formulate strategy.” They stress that Israel’s recent military engagements, including Operation Protective Edge in the Gaza Strip, honed the need to rethink the effectiveness of the deterrence approach.

And as if to complement their ideas, on Jan. 3, Brig. Gen. Itai Virov, the commander of the Gaza Division, shared his thoughts with a group of residents from the Gaza border communities. He spoke of the political echelon’s concept that the Palestinians can be deterred by might. “Deterring someone in Shajaiya [neighborhood in Gaza City] is pretentious, not to mention great arrogance,” said the senior officer, who himself lives in one of the kibbutzim in the area. In the conversation, taped by one of the participants, Virov described Gaza by saying, “A great tragedy … the ceilings of tens of thousands of homes are glued to the floor and cars cannot use dozens of roads.” Viewers of Israeli TV Channel 10 these days see ​in a series of reports by journalist Hezi Simantov that the situation in the West Bank refugee camps is essentially no different.

In his meeting with the residents of the Gaza border communities, Virov said, "The collapse of the Gaza Strip could lead us to bad places, given that the alternatives to the Hamas and military rule in Gaza are worse.”

Netanyahu, who boasts of the decision to freeze the funds of the PA, and his friends who come up with additional punishments, should take Virov’s words and replace the word “Strip” with the words “West Bank” and “Hamas rule” with “PA rule.” This, of course, assuming that they have the best interests of all Israeli citizens at heart, and not just of those who grace the lists of the right wing’s candidates for the 20th Knesset.

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Found in: taxation, palestinian authority, palestine, mahmoud abbas, israel, international criminal court, gaza strip, benjamin netanyahu

Akiva Eldar is a columnist for Al-Monitor’s Israel Pulse. He was formerly a senior columnist and editorial writer for Haaretz and also served as the Hebrew daily’s US bureau chief and diplomatic correspondent. His most recent book (with Idith Zertal), Lords of the Land, on the Jewish settlements, was on the best-seller list in Israel and has been translated into English, French, German and Arabic.

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