In reaction to the Palestinian Authority-Hamas unity deal signed in Cairo last week, Israel decided to turn off the spigot. It halted the transfer to the PA of over $100 million in customs and tax revenues.
Considering that, even under the right-of-center Netanyahu government, Israel has generally whitewashed the PA, Netanyahu even having called its president Mahmoud Abbas his “partner in peace” last September, it was a notably assertive step for Israel. And it appears to have hit the PA hard.
Although the European Union immediately announced that it would put up the money in Israel’s stead, it’s not clear when the sum will materialize. Meanwhile it was reported on Thursday that PA prime minister Salam Fayyad was turning to tight-fisted Arab states for help, claiming the PA was unable to pay the April salaries of 155,000 government workers and intoning at a news briefing: “We say to our Arab brothers: save us. We need your help more than any time before. It is the moment of truth.”
It was further reported on Thursday that Fayyad—sounding pretty desperate—was considering asking the UN Security Council to force Israel to hand over the money.
While the U.S. and, to a lesser extent, the EU have kept a distance from Hamas, the idea that the PA could be accountable for anything it does is indeed unfamiliar. In addition to the EU having claimed it would fill in for Israel on the transfer payment, its foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton has called on Israel to relent and make the payment itself, and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon directly told Netanyahu to do so in a phone call.
Israel, in having drawn the line at the PA’s deal with Hamas while more or less countenancing its other actions up to that point, is partly responsible for this state of affairs. Netanyahu has seen a diplomatic advantage for Israel in showing a generous tolerance toward the PA and repeatedly imploring it to join him in “peace talks.”