The UN envoy to the Middle East has raised objections to Israel’s decision to withhold tax funds from the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority after a Hamas-led parliament was sworn in.
Special Envoy Alvaro de Soto called the decision unhelpful and premature. Israel has long regarded the UN as a minor player in the Middle East peace process compared with the United States, which did not criticise the decision to withhold funds.
A day after Israel’s cabinet announced a permanent halt to the monthly transfer of about $50 million in tax revenues Israel collects on behalf of the Palestinians, de Soto on Monday said: "These are monies that belong to the Palestinians and should not be withheld." Israel’s government made the decision after Washington, the Jewish state’s biggest ally, asked the Palestinian Authority to return $50 million of its own aid to ensure it does not reach Hamas.
But de Soto said Israel’s decision to withhold the money ran counter to the position taken last month by the so-called Quartet of major peace mediators – the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia.
"These are monies that belong to the Palestinians and should not be withheld"
Alvaro de Soto,
After Hamas’s victory in a Palestinian parliamentary election on 25 January, the Quartet said foreign donors should continue to aid the caretaker government of Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, at least until Hamas formed a new administration.
De Soto said: "It follows that the formation of a new government and the approval of its programme should be awaited and that actions prior to that would be premature."