Military Government Hands Over Taxation To Palestinians
RAMALLAH, Occupied West Bank (AP) _ Yasser Arafat’s government took charge of tax collection in the West Bank today in another step toward expanding Palestinian autonomy.
The transfer of the tax authority, and the handover of the health system set for later today, are part of a plan for Palestinians to control most aspects of their lives despite continued Israeli occupation of the West Bank.
The PLO, which runs the six-month-old autonomy government in the Gaza Strip and West Bank town of Jericho, has already taken charge of education, tourism and welfare in the West Bank.
The move came days before Israel and the PLO were to begin difficult negotiations on the second stage of autonomy - redeploying Israeli troops in the West Bank, and Palestinian elections.
Israel is concerned that the safety of the 120,000 Jewish settlers won’t be guaranteed once the army pulls out of Palestinian towns as stipulated in the Israel-PLO accord.
There have been calls to renegotiate the agreement, including a proposal Wednesday by Deputy Foreign Minister Yossi Beilin to skip the interim phase altogether and begin talks now on the final status of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Jerusalem. That coincides with a growing desire among Israelis for greater separation from the Palestinians.
Police Minister Moshe Shahal called today for complete closure of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. He spoke a day after a West Bank Palestinian axed a 19- year-old woman soldier to death in northern Israel.
″There is no alternative other than to demand separation,″ Shahal said. ″Separation means that we do not have to open the territory out of economic and employment concerns until the Palestinians prove that they can prevent attacks.″
A closure would prevent 1.8 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, including tens of thousands of day workers, from entering Israel.
Palestinian tax officials said today their goal was to make the impoverished autonomy administration self-sufficient.
″We cannot depend for the rest of our lives on the donor countries and the foreign investors in building our Palestinian state,″ said Deputy Finance Minister Atef Alawneh.
In Brussels, foreign donors this week released $125 million pledged earlier, mostly to help the Palestinians meet running costs for a few months.
Alawneh said he eventually hoped to raise $300 million to $400 million annually in taxes, much more than raised by Israel, but the current system needs improvement.
During the six-year uprising against Israeli occupation, many Palestinians refused to pay taxes. Israel retaliated by denying tax evaders documents such as drivers’ licenses and travel papers. Soldiers accompanied tax collectors in night raids to confiscate goods from Palestinian homes in lieu of payment.
Alawneh said tax debts going back to the Israeli era would not be forgiven, and only fines and interest would be canceled.