JERUSALEM, Nov 28 (Reuters) - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday he was considering releasing tax money that Israel has been withholding from the Palestinians since they won membership of the U.N. cultural agency UNESCO.
The taxes Israel collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority are vital for paying civil servants' salaries, and include duties on goods imported to the Palestinian territories, amounting to about $100 million per month.
We have no interest in causing the collapse of the Palestinian Authority, Netanyahu was quoted by an official in parliament as telling its Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.
We are considering renewing the transfer of funds to the Palestinians, but we will reconsider that if they turn again to receive recognition from a U.N. organization, Netanyahu said, according to the official.
Israel froze the transfers on Nov. 1, a day after the Palestinians won UNESCO membership over Israeli and U.S. objections as part of their drive for statehood at the United Nations in the absence of peace talks. However, Netanyahu has come under international pressure to free up the funds.
Netanyahu's security cabinet is to meet in the next few days to decide whether to hand over the money, a government source said. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, a member of that forum, said in public remarks that the money belongs to the Palestinians and should now be handed over.
Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has said the Palestinian Authority would not be able to pay the salaries of about 150,000 workers this month if Israel did not release the money. The economic crisis that the Palestinian Authority is now facing is the most difficult and dangerous since (its) creation, Fayyad told reporters in Ramallah.
Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations stalled shortly after talks were renewed in September 2010 in a dispute over Israeli settlement building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. (Writing by Maayan Lubell, additional reporting by Jihan Abdalla; editing by David Stamp)