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Israeli Cabinet divided on concessions to PA

“The U.S. can't have it both ways with Smotrich,” according to a government source.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a Cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on June 18, 2023. Photo by Amit Shabi/POOL.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a Cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on June 18, 2023. Photo by Amit Shabi/POOL.

Clear disagreements emerged between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the one hand, and National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich on the other, during a meeting of Israel’s Security Cabinet on Sunday.

The dispute centered on whether Israel should employ more stringent measures in light of recent Palestinian terrorist attacks with criticism expressed towards the United States over its criticism of Israel’s government.

The Security Cabinet decided to suspend the collection of the debt owed to Israel by the Palestinian Authority for another year.

The ministers were presented with a host of other steps that would prevent the P.A. from collapsing financially, including the transfer of tax revenue Israel collects on its behalf, expanding the Tarqumiyah Industrial Zone near Hebron and expanding the operating hours of the Allenby Crossing from Jordan. Some of the measures were approved.

Netanyahu rejected Ben-Gvir and Smotrich’s demand that the ministers hold a vote, telling them that he would make the decision on his own in consultation with the defense minister and the security establishment.

Smotrich expressed opposition to the decision to give the Palestinian Authority debt relief for a year, saying that as far as he was concerned, “it won’t happen on my watch.”

He added that as finance minister, he would not sign off on any measure that would help the P.A. financially.

Sources in the Security Cabinet told Israel Hayom in the wake of the reports that the request to help the P.A. financially had come from the Biden administration that “the U.S. can’t have it both ways with Smotrich: They must decide if he is a partner or not; they can’t boycott him and expect him to play along.”

The source added that no American request had reached Smotrich’s desk.

In response to Smotrich’s protestations, Netanyahu said he would explain things when they met privately.

When Ben-Gvir also made similar comments that criticized the measures to help the Palestinian Authority despite the ongoing terrorist wave, Netanyahu said that “there is a need to stabilize the P.A.”

In June, Netanyahu said in a closed-door meeting of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that the Palestinian Authority “could not be allowed” to collapse, but that Palestinians’ desire for an independent state “must be cut off.”

He also said that Israel was making preparations for “the day after Abu Mazen,” in reference to octogenarian Mahmoud Abbas, who is in the 18th year of a four-year term as P.A. leader.

The package of concessions meant to prevent the P.A. from collapsing was drafted in the last few days. The work on it is being led by National Security Council head Tzachi Hanegbi and the head of the Defense Ministry’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) unit, Maj. Gen. Ghasan Alyan.

“The Americans know that we will confirm this soon and they are fully coordinating with us. These are not concessions or rewards, but decisions that will help the P.A. to maintain a better economic life, and this is a security interest first and foremost,” a source told Channel 12.

On Sunday, Kan Reshet Bet radio reported that P.A. officials have issued an ultimatum that if concessions were not approved, they would boycott an international security summit that is supposed to take place in the next two months.

The summit would be a follow-up to a U.S.-supervised meeting in February in Aqaba in which Israel and the P.A. affirmed the need to “commit to de-escalation on the ground,” according to Jordan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates.

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