Tax and customs fees collected on behalf of the Palestinian Authority are supposed to be used to pay wages. However, Israel has refused to hand over the cash on several occasions, saying it could be used to fund terrorist attacks.
With Hamas now likely to enter a unity government alongside Fatah, Palestinians are even less likely to see their money.
Alowie Abu Alowie guards the Palestinian Ministry of Finance. His job is to check everything that comes into this building.
But he has no control over what goes out, and least of all his salary, which is paid by this ministry, and is sometimes long overdue.
“If my salary comes late it’s like my life stops,” says Abu Alowie. “I simply cannot do anything. I have a wife and four children to feed and when I don’t get paid on time it makes lots of problems for me and my family.”
Ironically the ministry gets its money from the Israeli government. It comes in the form of customs and tax duties that Tel Aviv has been collecting on goods arriving at Israeli ports and destined for Palestinians.
The arrangement since 1993 is part of the Oslo Accord, giving Tel Aviv control of the international borders between Israel and the Palestinian territories, with the money transferred each month to the Palestinian Ministry of Finance, which uses it to pay wages.
But this arrangement does not work anymore. The issue is about $105 million that this ministry was unable to access to pay the salaries of 170,000 people. Ask any one of them and they will tell you they are afraid the situation will repeat itself.
Now, after arch-rivals Fatah and Hamas signed a reconciliation deal, Palestinians fear that Tel Aviv could again choose to withhold tax money like it did last month. Israelis argue they have every right to do so if they suspect the money could be used to buy weapons.
“The salaries to the Hamas terrrorists are paid from the same bank account,” says Dr. Arie Eldad, an Israeli right wing member of parliament. “So I don’t want to finance these terrorists in order to kill me.”
But Palestinians insist the money is for ordinary workers.
“It is a double-edged sword because on the one hand it’s a punishment,” says Ghassan Khatib, a member of Palestinian People’s party. “But on the other hand it’s a collective punishment that would mainly weaken the moderate elements within the Palestinian society and play to the hand of the extremists.”
The relationship between Hamas and Fatah is a turbulent one, but both groups are trying hard to work together ahead of September’s planned declaration of statehood.
No doubt Israel will be working even harder to thwart them, should it feel its interests are threatened.
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