Last updated: 23 November, 2011

Quartet urges Israel to release Palestinian funds

The international diplomatic Quartet on Wednesday called on the Israeli government to release “without delay” tax revenues due to the Palestinian Authority which it is withholding.

“I continue to call on the Israeli government to release the clearance revenues it is withholding from the Palestinian Authority without delay and resume their transfer on a regular basis,” a statement from Quartet Middle East envoy Tony Blair said.

“The funds are vital for the functioning of the PA and Israel’s withholding of these Palestinian funds threatens the salaries of some 180,000 employees, including Palestinian security officials who are working to provide security in the West Bank,” it added.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon made a similar call on Tuesday in a telephone conversation with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, adding a request to stop settlement activity in the occupied Palestinian territories, Ban’s spokesman said.

After UNESCO agreed to accept the Palestinian Authority as a member last month, Israel withheld payments of VAT and customs revenues that it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority. The UN estimates about $100 million a month is involved.

Israel also announced new approvals for settlements in the Palestinian territories.

Ban said Israel had to help ease tensions “to create an environment conducive for the resumption of direct negotiations.”

Talks between the two sides halted in September last year when Israel ended a moratorium on construction in the occupied territories.

The Quartet — the United States, European Union, Russia and United Nations — launched a new bid to hold talks on September 23 when Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas made his application to join the UN. International envoys have struggled to bridge the gap between the two sides however.