In 2012, when the Palestinians won “nonmember observer state status” in the United Nations, Israel responded by withholding the tax revenues it regularly collects for and passes on to the Palestinian Authority. Later, Israel quietly reinstated the transfers. Last Saturday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that Israel will again withhold tax revenue from the Palestinian Authority in direct response to the P.A. signing 20 international conventions, including the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court — an effort to leverage the ability to bring Israel and its leadership before the tribunal. That P.A. action followed by a day the U.N. Security Council’s defeat of a resolution calling for the creation of a Palestinian state by 2017 no matter what.
Israel’s most vocal supporters in Congress are calling for the United States to cut off funds to the P.A. and, as Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) said last week, a cutoff of funds to “any U.N. entity that recognizes a nonexistent State of Palestine.”
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is said to be considering a resubmission of the failed U.N. resolution, which the United States and Israel condemn as a unilateral act inconsistent with the need for a negotiated resolution between Israel and the Palestinians. With a U.S. veto of any such resubmitted statehood resolution almost certain, the threat by Abbas is generally viewed as simply more noise.
We are left with a situation in which Israel and the Palestinians continue to make accusatory statements against one another and alternately take steps that each knows hurts the other but are not likely to last. About the best that can be said about all this is that as long as the two sides are talking — even if not with each other — they are less likely to be fighting with one another on the battlefield. And considering that neither Israel nor the Palestinians seem to have leadership capable of working out a peace deal, this might be the next best thing.
Still, that’s small comfort.
Unilateral acts to isolate Israel in the international arena are unquestionably harmful. In addition to whatever direct consequences those actions have, they fuel the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement and help legitimize violence against Jews worldwide. So, we understand the urge to strike back. But the cutoff of aid to the P.A. also weakens the one Palestinian institution that works constructively with Israel. Granted, the P.A. is weak and isn’t much of an “authority.” But if the P.A. were to collapse, so would its security forces, which work closely with Israel.
This is why many in the pro-Israel community, including AIPAC, have in the past opposed the U.S. restriction of funds to the P.A. We share that concern. We hope that instead of ratcheting up the levels of confrontation, both sides will stop their grandstanding and return to efforts to cooperate with one another, even if those efforts are not directly related to peace negotiations.
Big, empty gestures do neither side any good.