Israel has begun withholding millions of dollars in tax revenue collected on behalf of the Palestinian Authority in retaliation for the Palestinians' bid to join the International Criminal Court, multiple outlets reported Saturday.
Around $127 million collected last month would be held back, Israeli officials told the BBC.
Under the terms of the Oslo Accords, Israel is tasked with collecting taxes and customs duties for the Palestinian Authority. It normally transfers about $100 million each month, amounting to two-thirds of the PA's budget.
Senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat told the BBC that the Israeli decision to freeze tax payments amounted to a "new war crime".
"Israel is once again responding to our legal steps with further illegal collective punishments," Mr Erekat said.
Israel also froze the monthly transfers in April 2014, after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas applied to join a number of international treaties and conventions.
JERUSALEM — Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas signed papers Wednesday that would allow the Palestinian Authority (PA) to join the International Criminal Court (ICC) in order to try to prosecute Israeli officials for what the Palestinians call war crimes.
In an emergency meeting of the PA in Ramallah on Wednesday, Abbas signed 20 documents and international treaties, among them the Treaty of Rome, a statute that begins the application process to the ICC. The Palestinians hope that membership in the ICC will allow them to prosecute Israeli officials for actions taken in the West Bank and Gaza. The ICC can prosecute individuals who are accused of war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the Palestinians had "more to fear" than Israel from the ICC. One of his spokesmen, Ofir Gendelman, tweeted that Israel's government was not concerned by the move.
Hamas has pressured the PA to join the ICC and prosecute Israel for actions taken during the war in Gaza this summer.
The Palestinians have promised to join the ICC since 2012, when they were admitted to the U.N. General Assembly as a nonmember observer state. The status allowed Palestinians to join international treaties and bodies, including the ICC, but Abbas' office said they would delay taking unilateral steps due to the then-ongoing peace talks.
When those talks collapsed eight months ago, Abbas surprised Washington and Jerusalem by immediately joining 15 international treaties and conventions.
In a background briefing with reporters earlier this month, Palestinian officials said joining the ICC was the "next natural step" and that Abbas had held off on that application at the request of the U.S.
"We gave time for them to restart talks, to advance negotiations, and nothing happened," said the official. "So can we be blamed for now pursuing our state through international bodies?"
If all goes according to plan, Palestinian officials say they can begin submitting motions against Israeli officials following a 60-day holding period for joining the ICC.
On Tuesday, the PA was stung by a resounding defeat at the U.N. Security Council, where they failed to get the nine votes necessary to recognize Israel's military occupation of the West Bank and set a three-year deadline for Israel to withdraw from all lands that Palestinians see as earmarked for their future state.
"We want to complain. There's aggression against us, against our land. The Security Council disappointed us," Abbas said as he gathered a meeting of the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank. His advisors pointed out that he had always intended to join the ICC if the U.N. Security Council resolution failed.
Sheera Frenkel is a cybersecurity correspondent for BuzzFeed News based in San Francisco. She has reported from Israel, Egypt, Jordan and across the Middle East. Her secure PGP fingerprint is 4A53 A35C 06BE 5339 E9B6 D54E 73A6 0F6A E252 A50F
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