The Jerusalem Post

MAKE THE PA PAY

By David M. Weinberg

(March 17) - News item: "Israel, US negotiating over tax monies to be handed over to Palestinians." Nothing could be more absurd. The EU and the US are pressuring Israel to release into Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat's coffers some $1.6 billion in various taxes and customs duties collected by the Finance Ministry on behalf of the Palestinian Authority. US President George W. Bush himself raised the issue with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon last month.

Now, I'm certain that Arafat has the best of intentions for the funds that our good friends abroad would have us deposit in his personal bank account in Tel Aviv. He plans to build old age homes, establish chess clubs, open soup kitchens, manufacture Kleenex, and sponsor the Palestinian Gaylee Boys Choir.

I'll even take Arafat at his word that he will not spend a penny of the $1.6b. to purchase guns, bullets, mortars, rockets and other projectiles that could hurt Israelis. Not even to pay-off his Iranian shipping bill.

I'm also willing to skip the argument that monies are fungible, meaning that if we give Arafat cash to spend on social welfare, it frees up other PA funds for the purchase of weaponry. Recall that the previous Bush administration wasn't so understanding. George Sr. coldly told Israel "no" when we requested loan guarantees to absorb Russian immigrants, because he didn't like Yitzhak Shamir's spending on settlements. Money is fungible, the elder Bush intoned.

Nevertheless, the notion that Israel owes anything to Arafat is both outrageous and ludicrous. Yasser owes us a lot more money than we supposedly owe him. It is time to make the PA pay, in hard cash, for the economic and financial damages it has caused Israel over the past 18 months.

To begin with, Jerusalem should use the PA's embargoed tax monies to pay the hundreds of Israeli companies that have been stiffed by the PA for supplied goods and services. Sources in the Israel Chambers of Commerce and the civil administration say the PA owes Israeli businesses over $100 million, including $13m. to Israel Electric and about $50m. to Bezeq.

In fact, 22 private companies, supported by the chamber and the Manufacturers Association, petitioned the High Court of Justice in January demanding exactly that. The companies - which include flour mills, air conditioning contractors, plastics, ceramics, chemicals and packaging manufacturers - hold about $5m. in bounced Palestinian checks. We should return these checks to the PA through Anthony Zinni. Call it a down payment on the $1.6b. we theoretically owe Arafat.

According to a 1994 Israeli law passed after the Cairo Accords (which established the parameters for economic relations between Israel and the PA), our Finance Ministry is empowered to deduct such Palestinian debts from tax monies we collect for the PA! Foolishly, the law has never been implemented.

PA liability is compounded by the whopping, devastating 95 percent drop in foreign investment that Israel has suffered since the armies under Arafat's control began shooting; from $2b. to $100m. in one year! That makes for another $1.9b. that the PA owes Israel. Some $100 million more has been lost in tourism. Tack it on to Yasser's bill.

The actual fighting has cost the IDF well over $2.5b., I estimate. One hour's operation of an Apache attack helicopter runs over $4,500; an F-16, over $12,000; a Merkava tank, at least $2,000. We have several thousand bulletproof vests for the police and for reservists on order, at $400 each, a new necessity courtesy of Mr. Arafat. The cost of security guards at schools, wedding halls, community centers, and synagogues is adding up, too.

Don't forget the high cost of maintaining so many Palestinian informants, and funds for hundreds of additional ambulance drivers, surgeons, social workers, occupational therapists, trauma support groups, etc. Valium, Prozac and Seroxat use in this country has gone through the roof. The Health Ministry says it needs an additional $300m.

I think we should add to Arafat's bill the enormous cost of the election to dump Ehud Barak, and the overtime paid to Carmela Menashe of Israel Radio so that she can broadcast her trenchant criticism of IDF operations.

Now for compensation to the approximately 1,500 Israeli victims of Palestinian terror: each victim should get no less than the Palestinian dead are receiving.

Reportedly, Hamas gives $10,000 to the family of every suicide bomber. According to The Financial Times of London, Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz said last Monday that Baghdad would raise its financial contribution to the families of Palestinian martyrs from $10,000 to $25,000.

That's a total shahid package of $35,000. The principle of equity demands that our dead - and I think even our wounded - get the same. Which adds $52.5 million to the reparations owed to Israel by Yasser Arafat's Evil Authority. Not including punitive damages.

Arafat shouldn't count on pocketing too much change once we get through adding up the costs of the nasty little war he forced upon us.

(The writer is director of public affairs at Bar-Ilan University's Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies.)



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