Israel’s Government Clamps Down on Palestinians With Measures Signaling Hard-Line Approach
Sanctions against the Palestinians include withholding $40 million in tax revenue and diverting it to Israeli victims of terror, while National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir ordered a halt to the public display of Palestinian flags
Just days into the tenure of Israel’s new government and it is steamrolling the Palestinians with a series of punitive measures aimed at delineating its intentions for the future of the decades-old conflict.
Over the weekend, Israel announced sanctions against the Palestinian Authority (PA). The move came in response to the Palestinian referral to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for an advisory opinion on Israel’s occupation of territories in the West Bank.
Israel captured the West Bank during the 1967 Mideast War. While the international community sees the Israeli presence there as illegal, it is now home to almost half a million Jewish residents. Palestinians see the land as part of their future state and turned to the ICJ to ask for its opinion on the legality of Israel’s actions in the West Bank.
The new government, led by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and including ultra-right nationalist parties in the coalition, was expected to adopt a hard line against the Palestinians. The announced sanctions are the opening salvo of a new phase in the struggle between the warring sides.
“This is a government that wants to finalize the death of the two-state solution and get rid of the PA,” a former senior Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Media Line.
As part of the sanctions, approximately $40 million in tax revenue that Israel collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority will be withheld and diverted to families of Israeli victims of Palestinian assailants. In addition, Israel plans to deduct any payments the PA intends to give to the terrorists or their families from the tax revenues.
This is a government that wants to finalize the death of the two-state solution and get rid of the PA
Israel also will freeze any construction plans for Palestinians in areas of the West Bank that are governed by both the PA and Israel, and revoke benefits for senior Palestinian officials.
“The state of Israel is trying to punish the Palestinians and coerce them into changing their minds by sanctions,” said Ronni Shaked, coordinator of the Middle East Unit at the Harry S. Truman Research Institute at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. “These measures will only make the Palestinians more steadfast in their position.”
“Israel is not leaving the PA any room to maneuver and is pushing them into a crossroads – either to continue with this confrontation or give up their role as the leadership for the Palestinian people,” said Ghassan Khatib, a former Palestinian cabinet minister and peace negotiator.
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad Malki was one of the first Palestinian VIPs to feel the sanctions. When returning from the inauguration of Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in Sao Paolo, Malki was forced to stand in line instead of speeding through passport control at an Israeli-controlled border crossing.
“The so-called ‘retaliation’ measures by Israel against the sovereign, legitimate and peaceful Palestinian pursuit of justice are absolutely abominable,” Malki said in a statement, in which he called the sanctions “vindictive.”
“After decades of Israeli occupation, the Palestinians are used to much harsher measures,” said Shaked.
But the financial sanctions will take a toll on Palestinians almost immediately.
“This is extremely dangerous,” said Khatib. “It presents an existential threat to the PA, especially after years of similar measures and a reduction in the international aid granted to Palestinians in recent years.”
“This accumulation of financial pressure leaves the PA in a critical situation in terms of its ability to continue fulfilling its obligations,” Khatib added, saying the daily lives of many Palestinians will be affected instantly by the sanctions.
According to Khatib, PA employees, who make up a large portion of the Palestinian labor market, are currently receiving only partial salaries due to the financial strain the PA is under.
The state of Israel is trying to punish the Palestinians and coerce them into changing their minds by sanctions. These measures will only make the Palestinians more steadfast in their position.
In addition to the measures, Israel’s National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir on Sunday ordered the police to prohibit the display of Palestinian flags in public.
“We will fight terrorism and the encouragement of terrorism with all our might!” Ben-Gvir tweeted.
There is no law in Israel banning the display of the Palestinian flag. A largely symbolic move, it will certainly add fuel to the conflict.
“There are many more measures that the Israeli government can undertake and the reality on the ground will likely present Israel with many possibilities to do so,” said the former senior official.
The measures come after months of heightened tensions and violent exchanges between the warring sides.
According to the Israeli human rights watchdog B’Tselem, 2022 was the deadliest year for Palestinians in the West Bank since 2004. Some 146 Palestinians were killed last year by Israeli forces. Seventeen Israelis were killed by Palestinians in both the West Bank and Israel. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), almost 10,000 Palestinians were injured, the majority of them in clashes with Israeli security forces.
The appointment of Ben-Gvir as a senior cabinet minister was a controversial one even before it was formalized. To his supporters, he is a defender of Israeli national pride and sovereignty. His opponents see him as an extremist who has the ability to drag Israel into a widespread conflict with its neighbors and with Arab Israelis who make up 20% of Israel’s population.
Last week, in his first days in office, Ben-Gvir visited the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound. The holy site has been the focal point of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for decades. Palestinians saw the visit as a violation of the delicate status quo in the compound which limits Israeli access to the areas adjacent to the mosque while allowing Jews free entrance to the Western Wall in the same compound.
The United Nations Security Council met on Friday to discuss the contentious visit. From a controversial local figure, Ben-Gvir catapulted into international notoriety.
The presence of extreme-right-wing elements in the government indicates that the new Israeli government will only intensify efforts to strong-arm the Palestinians into submission. While doing so, the government will likely solidify Israel’s presence in the West Bank.
“What we are seeing is a crawling annexation of the territories in which Israelis are present,” said Shaked. “This is the single policy of the Israeli government – to annex the territories without announcing so.”
Netanyahu, who has said he wants to promote the normalization of relations with Saudi Arabia, is expected to avoid making any large moves or statements.
This is extremely dangerous. It presents an existential threat to the PA, especially after years of similar measures and a reduction in the international aid granted to Palestinians in recent years.
The coalition guidelines state that the government will operate in order to legalize new, and currently unapproved, Israeli settlements in the West Bank. It also will divert significant funds in order to strengthen the Israeli presence there.
Realizing this, the Palestinians will not abandon their legal struggle. Meanwhile, the more far-right Israel’s government turns, the easier it will be to garner support for the Palestinian cause.
“The Israeli strategy and messages are clear,” said the former Israeli official. “The question is what the international response will be. If once sanctions against Israel were off the table, I am not so sure this is the case anymore.”
“The PA now has an opportunity to move forward in its bilateral relations with countries and in international organizations,” said Khatib.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who embarked on legal warfare against Israel several years ago, could have not asked for a better government in Israel in order to promote his people’s cause.
“This government is here to make far-reaching and swift changes and break the rules of the game,” the former senior official summarized.