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West Bank worries

Senate Democrats warn that West Bank economic crisis endangers PA security forces

The lawmakers highlighted concerts about the lack of tax revenue transfers from Israel to the Palestinian Authority

MARCUS YAM / LOS ANGELES TIMES

RAMALLAH, WEST BANK -- OCTOBER 18, 2023: Palestinian Authority riot police take control after clearing out protesters near Al Menarah square,Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2023.

A dozen Democratic senators wrote to President Joe Biden on Wednesday raising concerns about the deteriorating security situation in the West Bank, focusing in particular on the lack of tax revenue transfers from Israel to the Palestinian Authority since Oct. 7.

The lawmakers, led by Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark Warner (D-VA), said that “Israel must take steps to address growing instability in the West Bank,” including settler violence and worsening economic conditions, which “are compromising the lives of innocent Palestinian civilians” and “risk opening an additional front to the conflict, to the significant detriment of Israeli and regional security.”

The lawmakers said in the letter that post-Oct. 7 economic conditions have slashed Palestinian Authority revenues by 80%, raising concerns about the PA’s continued ability to pay the salaries of Palestinian Security Forces members and public workers.

They specifically raised concerns that the Israeli government’s decision to withhold much of the tax revenue it collects on behalf of the PA and the PA’s refusal to accept the reduced funding that Israel had offered “is dramatically exacerbating the economic volatility in the West Bank,” which “directly threatens the economic standing of the security services in the West Bank.”

The lawmakers warned that pay gaps for these personnel could lead to walk-offs by security forces or allow militant groups to “financially coerce these services,” potentially creating the possibility of a two-front war in Gaza and the West Bank.

“We urge you and senior members of your Administration to continue to prioritize the resumption of these transfers in any conversations with the Israeli government as well as Palestinian Authority officials,” the letter reads. “A commitment by Israel to immediately transfer the full allotment of Palestinian Authority revenues is vital to staving off a significant rise in instability, and would represent a crucial step by Israel towards deescalating tensions in the West Bank.”

The lawmakers offered praise for the administration’s move to implement visa bans on settlers involved in violent attacks on Palestinians in the West Bank, and said that the Israeli government “must address” these incidents.

They also acknowledged ongoing issues with the PA, including corruption and payments to the families of terrorists. “These reforms remain important, alongside supporting near-term stability and security,” the lawmakers wrote. U.S. law prohibits the U.S. from providing funding directly to the Palestinian Authority.

This is the second letter Warner has led in the past two months raising concerns about the situation in the West Bank.

Warner was joined by Sens. Mark Kelly (D-AZ), Angus King (I-ME), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), John Hickenlooper (D-CO), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Tom Carper (D-DE), Jack Reed (D-RI) and Ron Wyden (D-OR). The signatories include both critics of Israel’s war effort as well as more hawkish pro-Israel lawmakers.

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