Israel has warned its decision to freeze the transfer of tax revenues to the Palestinian Authority will be only the first step if the Palestinians press ahead with attempts to charge Israel with war crimes in the International Criminal Court at The Hague.
As the diplomatic tit-for-tat intensified, Israel's foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, launched a scathing attack on what Israel perceives as the pro-Palestinian stance of European states, singling out Ireland, along with Sweden, for particular criticism.
Addressing Israeli ambassadors to Europe yesterday in Jerusalem, Mr Lieberman lambasted European support for unilateral Palestinian measures, saying: “There are times that you’re stunned by the lies, the distortions and the inventions.”
He cited as an example the United Nations security council vote, which failed to muster the required nine votes in favour, on a Palestinian resolution for ending Israel's occupation of the West Bank, which was supported by Luxembourg and France, while Britain abstained.
“Some of the countries of Europe are following in the footsteps of Europe of 1938, the eve of the Munich agreement,” he said.
“The behaviour of countries such as Sweden and Ireland is the very same behaviour and the very same irresponsibility as when they abandoned Czechoslovakia. They are abandoning Israel and find justification despite the fact that we are the only country in the Middle East that embodies western values.”
He said the attitude of European parliaments was like another chapter in The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the notorious tsarist anti-Semitic forgery.
Israel’s weekend decision to freeze the transfer of €106 million of tax revenue, collected on behalf of the Palestinian Authority last month, came in response to the security council vote and the Palestinian move to join the ICC, where it is expected to pursue war crime charges against Israel, including incidents during the 50-day war in Gaza last summer.
Prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu indicated Israel would up the ante if the Palestinians carry through with their threats: "The Palestinian Authority has chosen confrontation with Israel and we will not sit idly by. We will not allow Israel Defence Force soldiers and commanders to be hauled before the ICC."
He said Israel may press charges against Palestinian Authority leaders who aligned themselves in a unity government with Hamas, which Israel believes committed war crimes by targeting Israeli civilians during the summer conflict.
Israel collects taxes on behalf of the Palestinians, and transfers a sum each month which makes up roughly two-thirds of the Palestinian Authority budget. The Palestinian finance ministry warned that without the tax it would be difficult to pay this month’s civil service salaries.
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said the money freeze was a new Israeli “war crime” and “piracy”, and vowed the Palestinians would not give in, saying Israel had left them no choice but to take unilateral steps – peaceful moves the Palestinians chose over violence.