RAMALLAH, West Bank — Israel froze the transfer of millions of dollars in tax rebates and customs payments to the Palestinian Authority, and Palestinian officials said Wednesday that Saudi Arabia and Qatar had promised $33 million in quick aid to ease a budget crisis.
Saudi Arabia promised $20 million and Qatar pledged $13 million to help the Palestinian Authority pay January salaries to 137,000 employees, a senior Palestinian official said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal was not final.
Earlier, Israel said it was suspending the transfer of $45 million in tax and customs revenues it collected in January while Western nations weighed whether to continue supporting the Palestinian Authority after Hamas, with its history of suicide bombings and rejection of Israel, forms a government.
Western donors, led by the U.S. and European Union, have been giving about $900 million to the Palestinians each year, most of it for reconstruction projects in the impoverished Gaza Strip and West Bank. They are reconsidering that funding, demanding that Hamas recognize Israel and renounce violence.
The 137,000 Palestinian Authority employees, including almost 60,000 security officers, were supposed to receive their salaries today. Even with the Saudi and Qatari pledge of aid, a Palestinian official said, the checks would not be ready until Monday at the earliest.
Even a week's delay could mean hardship for large numbers of Palestinians. The Palestinian economy is in tatters after five years of violence with Israel. Unemployment is at 22%, and even the meager government salaries in many cases support extended families.
Palestinian Authority Economy Minister Mazen Sinokrot said Israel was in violation of interim peace accords, which require it to transfer the customs and taxes. He also said Israel owed $53 million, not $45 million.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said Israel and the world could not be expected to "finance people who believe that the solution is the destruction of Israel by suicide bombings and violent jihad."