Joint Arab List MK Ahmad Tibi, political advisor to Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat from 1993 to 1999, and PLO representative at the 1998 Wye River negotiations, is not a politician one easily imagines in cahoots with MK and former Navy officer Oded Forer (Yisrael Beiteinu). But last week, at a meeting of the Knesset Finance Committee, the two legislators supported each other’s arguments, even though those arguments were diametrically opposed.
At the meeting, the Finance Ministry requested the Knesset’s approval for a rule that was described as aimed at strengthening economic cooperation with the Palestinian Authority regarding the employment of PA Arab workers. As reporter Zeev Kam of Makor Rishon put it, the rule sounds innocent enough. But, of course, the devil is always in the details.
There are three categories of PA Arab employees: those who work in the PA, those in the Jewish communities of Judea and Samaria, and those who work inside “greenline” Israel. Workers in the latter two categories earn on average three times what their brethren working inside the PA do. This has to do with the fact that Israelis in and out of the greenline just pay more reasonable salaries, but also with the fact that Israel endows these workers with certain tax benefits.
And those tax benefits are what the Israeli Finance Ministry is after, seeking to match the tax rates of PA Arabs working inside and outside the PA. The estimate is that by cutting the tax benefits, the PA stands to earn about $45 million a year — taken from the PA Arabs who are lucky enough to qualify for work for Israeli employers.
Why would Israel be so invested in taking money away from the only PA Arabs who still have something good to say about it, and give it to the PLO, who will spend this money dragging Israel through the mud in international forums? The two representatives of the Finance Ministry at the Knesset Finance Committee explained that the World Bank has recommended the move to impose the same tax rate on all PA Arab workers, regardless of where they work.
Mind you, it took the MKs some time to decipher the financial mumbo jumbo heaped on them by the two civil servants, but in the end, both Tibi and Forer were equally outraged, each for his own reason, and both supporting each other in the strangest example of political bedfellowship.
MK Tibi was annoyed that instead of forcing Israel to pay up the PA tax money it has frozen for a variety of reasons (the PA’s awarding stipends to terrorists’ families, the PA owing the electric company half a billion dollars), the Finance Ministry would simply charge the most vulnerable workers. He was also upset at the fact that when seeking to equate the pay of PA Arabs making $400 a month and those making $1,300 a month, the financiers decided to cut everybody down closer to $400.
Tibi, an obstetrician, suggested bitterly that since there are hospitals in the PA that provide inadequate treatment, “using the same principle a Palestinian patient being treated in an Israeli hospital, instead of receiving two infusion bags should receive only one, to make it even.”
MK Forer said he was at his wits’ end trying to understand the Israeli concern for the welfare of the Palestinian Authority. “There are about 70 thousand Palestinian workers with permits in Israel,” he said. “Out of those only one was involved in a terror attack. Which points to the fact that these people really come here to earn their bread. And you now wish to take more taxes from them, not to fund positive activities, but so the money would go to the Palestinian Authority. And what does the PA do with these monies? Pay those who are in prison for security violations.”
“Finally,” Forer said, “taking the example of a plant in [the Samaria Jewish community of] Barkan, a Palestinian who would sell the Israeli merchandize produced in Barkan would suffer severe punishment according to Palestinian law, imprisonment and fines.” In other words, Israel sets out to cut the income of a PA Arab who supports Israeli products, and give the money to the PA which boycotts the same products.
According to Kam’s report, the attempt on the part of the Finance Ministry to sabotage Israeli relations with PA Arabs to support a hostile PA died in committee.