Occupied West Bank, ALRAY - Israeli finance minister Avigdor Smotrich has taken the controversial step of freezing a budget of approximately 300 million shekels designated for Arab local authorities within the occupied territories. This move is being viewed as a collective punitive measure against the Palestinian citizens within the occupied territories, in response to their expressed national stances and their involvement in the ongoing developments across the Palestinian landscape.
In addition, a budget of 200 million shekels has been frozen to incentivize the integration of Palestinians residing in the occupied Jerusalem into Israeli academic institutions.
The hardline minister did not stop there, following up with a decision to establish a committee to "examine the allocation of budgets to Arab local authorities" and determine whether they deserve them or not.
The confiscation of funds from Palestinians within the territories is not considered a new policy imposed by "Israel" on them. While the recent freeze, although a concerning precedent, authorities of the occupation have previously refrained from approving budgets for them altogether, as affirmed by officials within those authorities.
The Palestinian population within the 1948 territories is estimated to be around 7.1 million individuals as of the end of 2022. This population resides within a framework of 72 Arab local authorities within the occupied areas. These figures underscore the demographic and administrative complexity of the region, with implications for the social, economic, and political dynamics in the area.
Edgar Dekor, the head of the Fasuta Local Council and spokesperson for the Palestinian Committee in the occupied territories, stated that "The step of freezing budgets for local authorities will undoubtedly lead to disruptions in their performance." This statement highlights the concerns of local authorities about the practical consequences of the budget freeze, potentially affecting their ability to provide essential services and support to their communities.
He further adds, "These disruptions are exactly what the occupation authorities aim for, led by the extremist ministers of security and finance. They seek to infiltrate the leadership of the local Arab authorities, and this is a grave indicator suggesting intentions to weaken them in the first place."
Secondly, according to Dekor, "Israel" aims to weaken the Palestinian leadership within the territories, which is evident in its targeting of the High Follow-Up Committee through a proposed law that seeks to ban it. This assertion highlights a broader strategy that includes legislative measures intended to restrict the activities of Palestinian leadership bodies, potentially curbing their influence and ability to advocate for the rights and interests of Palestinian citizens residing within the occupied territories.
Dekor adds, "In the past, we have suffered from the refusal to approve budgets for Arab authorities within the territories. However, this time the decision includes freezing ongoing and annually approved budgets, reflecting a dangerous escalation in Israel's policy towards the Palestinians."
Furthermore, he doesn't rule out the possibility of additional steps in freezing future budgets, stating: "The hardest thing is the beginning, as Imam Al-Shafi'i once said. Therefore, what will follow this step could prove even more challenging for us, as there are concerns about that."
The local authorities that serve the Palestinian citizens within the territories will encounter difficulties in fulfilling their responsibilities following the budget freeze. This is especially true considering that the frozen funds are allocated to essential and daily service sectors, as well as projects and programs related to education, social welfare, environment, infrastructure, and other everyday matters, according to Dekor.
Consequently, the spokesperson for the Palestinian Committee asserts that "Israel aims to transform Palestinian citizens within the territories into subjects under its control. By doing so, the citizen would no longer rely on their local authorities, thus rendering them devoid of a cause, without representation by leadership or institutions." This analysis underscores the broader implications of the budget freeze as potentially weakening the Palestinian citizens' connection to their local governance structures and further marginalizing their representation and influence within the occupied territories.