JERUSALEM: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is campaigning for re-election, vowed Sunday to freeze money transfers by Israel to the Palestinian Authority after a deadly Palestinian attack on a young woman.
Israel collects around US$127 million a month in customs duties levied on goods destined for Palestinian markets that transit through Israeli ports and then transfers it to the PA.
The Israeli parliament, the Knesset, last year passed legislation to partially withhold funds, in response to PA payments to families of Palestinians jailed by Israel for attacks against Israelis.
“By the end of the week, the staff-work necessary for implementing the law on deducting terrorists’ salaries will be completed,” Netanyahu – who faces a general election in April – told journalists at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting.
“Next Sunday I will convene the security cabinet and we will approve the necessary decision to deduct the funds. Let nobody doubt, the funds will be deducted, at the start of next week,” the Israeli leader said.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett was among right-wingers who on Sunday pressed Netanyahu to implement the law after a Palestinian was arrested at the weekend over the murder of 19-year-old Ori Ansbacher.
“The law to offset terrorist funds passed… last July,” he Tweeted.
“I call on the prime minister – apply the law immediately.”
Palestinian civil affairs minister Hussein al-Sheikh said the PA would not go along with Israel withholding any part of the tax money due.
“The Palestinian Authority will refuse to receive any cleared funds if Israel deducts a penny from it,” he told AFP.
He did not say what the PA’s next step would be.
Army to demolish home
The Israeli army said Sunday it had started preparations to demolish the West Bank home of the Palestinian suspected of Ansbacher’s killing, named by security officials as 29-year-old Arafat Irfaiya from the flashpoint city of Hebron on the occupied West Bank.
“Overnight, troops operated in Hebron, where the suspect in the murder of Ori Ansbacher is from,” the army said.
“During the operation, the troops surveyed the suspect’s house in order to examine the possibility of its demolition.”
Ansbacher’s body was found late Thursday in southeast Jerusalem, and she was buried the next day in her Israeli settlement of Tekoa.
Israeli security forces arrested the suspect in a raid in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
On Sunday, the Shin Bet security agency said the murderer had “nationalist” motives.
Netanyahu visited Ansbacher’s parents on Sunday evening, also telling them that the results of the investigation “determined that the murder was carried out for a nationalist motive,” the prime minister’s office said.
Both the police and Shin Bet said previously that investigations had not concluded whether it was a “terrorist attack” or driven by another motive.
But in the run-up to general elections in April, politicians and Israeli media appeared to have already made up their minds.
“I have no doubts about the nationalist motives of the murderer,” said Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan.
Commenting on calls to execute Palestinian militant killers, Erdan said he was in favour of applying the death penalty in certain circumstances.
“If it becomes clear that there is no possibility of rehabilitating the murderer and that he abused his victim, in such cases capital punishment should be applied,” he said.
“The time has come to employ the death penalty for terrorists, as the law allows us to do,” the daily Maariv quoted MP Bezalel Smotrich of the far-right Jewish Home party as saying.
Despite a court gag order, Israeli social media were abuzz over the weekend with what Yediot Aharonot newspaper called “graphic descriptions about the alleged nature of the murder”.
Police called on the public not to share “publications and reports, especially on social media, about the circumstances of the murder case – including irresponsible horrific descriptions.”
“We hereby clarify that those are completely baseless publications,” it said.
Sponsors of July’s law on Palestinian funds wrote at the time that the PA paid around US$330 million a year to prisoners and their families, or 7% of its budget.
Israel has withheld payments in the past, notably in response to the Palestinians’ 2011 admission to the UN cultural agency UNESCO as a full member.
The PA, which has limited sovereignty in parts of the West Bank, relies heavily on outside financial aid.