Israel has started implementing economic sanctions against the Palestinian authorities and is looking at ways to prosecute senior Palestinians for war crimes in the United States and elsewhere in reaction to the Palestinian authorities trying to join the International Criminal Court, Israeli officials said on Saturday.
Israel froze about $125 million from tax funds collected on the behalf of the Palestinian authorities which were scheduled to go through this month in response to the Palestinians’ ICC bid,Ynet News reported Israeli sources as saying.
Later on Saturday, an Israeli official also confirmed to Agence France-Presse that Tel Aviv is freezing the tax funds.
The funds were frozen following a discussion convened by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
A senior Palestinian official slammed the decision as “Israeli piracy.”
Each month, the Palestinian authorities’ salaries cost around $200 million, of which $120 million stems from taxes collected by Israel.
The Palestinians also could lose their $400 million in annual U.S. aid if the Palestinians used membership in the ICC to press claims against Israel.
The United States, Israel’s main ally, supports an eventual independent Palestinian state, but has argued against unilateral moves like Friday’s, saying they could damage the peace process.
Another Israeli official told Reuters that “Israel is weighing the possibilities for large-scale prosecution in the United States and elsewhere” of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and other senior Palestinians.
He further warned Palestinian leaders when he said that they “ought to fear legal steps” after their decision to sign onto the Rome Statute.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has previously warned that unilateral moves by the Palestinian Authority at the United Nations would expose its leaders to prosecution over support for Hamas, viewed by Israel as a terrorist organization.
“(Hamas) … commits war crimes, shooting at civilians from civilian populated areas,” the official said, alluding to a war in Gaza last summer in which more than 2,100 Palestinians and more than 70 Israelis died.
The Palestinians delivered to U.N. headquarters in New York on Friday documents on joining the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and other global treaties, saying they hoped to achieve “justice for all the victims that have been killed by Israel, the occupying power.”
The Hague-based court looks at cases of severe war crimes and crimes against humanity such as genocide.
Israel would probably press these cases via non-governmental groups and pro-Israel legal organizations capable of filing lawsuits abroad, a second Israeli official said, explaining how the mechanism might work.
Israel sees the heads of the Palestinian Authority in the Occupied West Bank as collaborators with Hamas in Gaza because of a unity deal they forged in April, the first official said.
Palestinians seek a state in Gaza, the West Bank and Occupied East Jerusalem – lands Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East War.
Momentum to recognize a Palestinian state has built since Abbas succeeded in a bid for de facto recognition of Palestinian statehood at the U.N. General Assembly in 2012, which made Palestinians eligible to join the ICC.