In another last-minute turn-around, Israeli PM Netanyahu failed to bring Israel’s withholding of Palestinian tax money to a vote by his cabinet. Defense Minister Barak and officers from the military spoke for releasing the Palestinian money (collected from Palestinian economic activity) immediately and without conditions. The Israeli military fears that if the PA collapses from a crippling financial emergency, the West Bank will become even more volatile and a real danger to Israel’s security.
PM Netanyahu had signaled he favored releasing the Palestinian money but the ministers of Finance and Foreign Affairs opposed the release. In addition, reports that Netanyahu was told the Palestinians had hardened their position regarding peace negotiations, and Netanyahu retaliated by shelving the Cabinet vote to release the funds. As if the two are related! They are not.
Above the policy implications, Netanyahu’s decision underscores his own mercurial nature and why so many Palestinians and Europeans don’t trust him.
Mr. Netanyahu apparently wants to break the PA and take Israeli/Palestinian relations back to the pre-Oslo period. He has already negated provisions that two former PMs (Barak and Olmert) negotiated as part of a ‘final status’ treaty solution and insists that negotiations under his Administration start at zero.
While Defense Minister Barak argued that continued withholding of Palestinian revenue adds to the increasing friction between the two sides and Israel’s negative reputation in the international community, Netanyahu signaled he doesn’t really care about those consequences.
Does Netanyahu care if the PA collapses? Apparently not. He released hundreds of PA prisoners, including known terrorists and sent some back to the West Bank, the rest to Gaza, where some will once again be tempted towards violence. Either West Bank violence or the PA’s collapse would draw immediate Israeli retaliation up to and including the return to full occupation of Gaza and the West Bank with full Palestinian dependency on Israel.
Netanyahu’s vision of the immediate future looks increasingly like a lurch into the pre-Oslo past. If so, all bets are off and all restraints will be removed in the Middle East. And this is a man in charge of over 200 nuclear missiles! No wonder Iran wants its own bomb.