Territorial Control Has its Privileges

Posted on May 3, 2011

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What can Israel do when the Palestinian Authority does stuff it doesn’t like? Why, it can withhold the money that Israel owes the Palestinian Authority, as America’s papers of record reported today. But wait, you say! How did Israel get control of the Palestinian Authority’s money?

Well, the answer is easy. Despite being considered an autonomous entity, and treated as a foreign power for military attacks, jingo and political posturing purposes, the reality is that the Palestinian Authority has absolutely no control of its own borders in any regard. Even such things as customs fees and taxes are controlled by the government of Israel.

Never one to pass up a possible weapon against the Palestinian people, Israel has used this trick since the inception of the PA as a stealth embargo, turned off and on at will. The capacity is written directly into the lopsided Oslo Accords, which give Israel absolute control over every pore and border in the occupied territories.

Remarkably, it’s not military attacks that Netanyahu’s government seeks to stop by withholding these funds. It’s the diplomatic appeal for world recognition that Abbas’ has waged over the past year, now bolstered by the coalition agreement reached with Hamas last week.

Israel has pulled this trump card often over the past five years, specifically as a weapon to frustrate Palestinian diplomacy–though you won’t see much contextualization of this history in the American media accounts of Israel’s latest underhanded move. The New York Times’ Isabel Kershner mentions it in passing, noting that the outlays “have been suspended for lengthy periods in the past.”  But it’s instructive to see why and when these suspensions have occurred over the past five years.

From 2006 to 2007, Israel withheld most of the funds to punish Palestinians for electing Hamas in national elections. Remarkably, Israel only released the funds after Fatah’s frustrated coup attempt to retake power from Hamas in 2007In 2008, Israel withheld the funds to prevent the PA from trying to influence the European Union’s economic relationship with Israel. And now, Israel uses it to keep Palestinians from pursuing alternative, but peaceful and legal, methods of achieving stability and a peaceful resolution to the now forty four year old conflict.

As many have noted for years, what Israel fears more than any “terror” attack, is Palestinian efforts to achieve sovereignty through routes recognized by international law. It’s not clear yet what goal the PA has for its year long diplomatic offensive, but it is pretty obvious that one of the few options after diplomatic efforts have been frustrated is violence. That fact doesn’t seem to bother the government of Israel for some reason.

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