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G7 to urge Israel to protect Palestinian banking services

STRESA (AFP) – G7 finance ministers are set to urge Israel not to disrupt “vital financial transactions” in the occupied Palestinian territories, following indications it could cut off Palestinian banks.

“We call on Israel to take the necessary measures to ensure that correspondent banking services between Israeli and Palestinian banks remain in place, so that vital financial transactions and critical trade and services continue,” a draft statement following talks in Italy, seen by AFP, said.

The G7 ministers gathered in Stresa also urged Israel “to release withheld clearance revenues to the Palestinian Authority, in view of its urgent fiscal needs”.

And they asked Israel “to remove or relax other measures that have negatively impacted commerce to avoid further exacerbating the economic situation in the West Bank”.

United States (US) Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen had on Thursday expressed concern at Israel’s “threats” to cut off Palestinian banks from their Israeli correspondent banks. Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich said on Wednesday he planned not to renew a vital arrangement between financial institutions, which is due to expire within weeks. Yellen warned of the eventual risk of a “humanitarian crisis” if this happened, and said she had raised her concerns with Israel.

Finance ministers and central bank governors at the G7 Finance Ministers meeting in Italy. PHOTO: AP

“These banking channels are critical for processing transactions that enable almost USD8 billion a year in imports from Israel, including electricity, water, fuel, and food,” she said.

They also facilitate “almost USD2 billion a year in exports on which Palestinian livelihoods depend”.

Smotrich also threatened to stop transferring tax funds to the Palestinian Authority and to end Norway’s role facilitating the transfers.

Under peace agreements brokered in part by Norway in the 1990s, Israel collects money for the Palestinian Authority, which exercises limited autonomy in parts of the West Bank.

But Israel has blocked transfers since shortly after the October7 attacks.

Smotrich’s threat came after Norway joined Ireland and Spain earlier this week in recognising a Palestinian state.

The Israeli Cabinet this year approved a plan to transfer to Norway, Palestinian tax funds designated for the Palestinian Authority for its staff in Gaza.