Families of Palestinian terrorists receiving monthly payments from the Palestine Liberation Organization are pushing for an increase, amid growing pressure from the United States and other donor countries on the Palestinian Authority to end the practice.
The monthly payments, which totaled $173 million in 2016, are doled out to relatives of “martyrs” — the families of terrorists who have murdered Israelis, as well as those wounded or killed in any confrontation with Israelis.
Republican South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham reintroduced legislation in March that would cut US funding to the PA if it continues to provide monetary support to the families of those who commit acts of terror against Israelis and others.
Since 2011, these monthly allowances have been a fixed sum.
According to Muhammad Sbeihat, the Secretary-General of the National Association of the Martyrs’ Families of Palestine, a non-governmental umbrella group, members of his organization are asking for the payments to be linked to the cost of living in the Palestinian Territories, which would raise them “slightly.”
“In the upcoming period, the allowances of the martyrs’ families will be linked to the cost of living index, which will cause an improvement in these allowances, if only slightly,” Sbeihat said last Tuesday at an event for “martyr” families in Tulkarem, according to a translation in a Palestinian Media Watch (PMW) report published Sunday.
The PMW report described Sbeihat’s group as “the PLO organization” dealing with the PA’s payments to ‘Martyrs’ families, and said the PA “is now raising the payments to the ‘martyrs’ families.”
However Sbeihat, in a phone interview with The Times of Israel on Monday, confirmed that members of his group are asking for an increased monthly sum, but denied his organization was an official PLO group and said no new policy had yet been enacted by the PA.
“We are not an official group. We are a public group. We do not decide anything,” he said. “There is no official decision,” he added.
Currently there are around 35,100 families in the West Bank and Gaza receiving payments from the PLO — the $173 million paid out in 2016.
In addition, the PLO gives monthly payments to Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails and their families. In 2016 the PLO budgeted $137.45 million for payments to prisoners.
The bill reintroduced in March by Graham, the Taylor Force Act, was first submitted last year by Graham with former Indiana Republican Sen. Dan Coats and Missouri Republican Sen. Roy Blunt. It was referred to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at the time, but never came up for a vote.
The legislation is named after former US army officer Taylor Force, who was stabbed to death in March 2016 by a Palestinian terrorist while visiting Tel Aviv.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is slated to visit US President Donald Trump later this month. The two are expected to discuss relaunching the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, which has been frozen since 2014.
In an opinion piece published in the Washington Post April 6, Ghaith al-Omari, a former adviser to Abbas and the Palestinian negotiating team, and David Makovsky, a former senior adviser to the US special envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, argued the PLO must change its payment policy, including to show the current US administration it is serious about making peace.
Payments should be immediately halted, for example, to any “Palestinian who deliberately shoots, stabs or rams an Israeli with murderous intent,” they wrote.
The “Palestinians argue that the bulk of these prisoners and ‘martyrs’ are political prisoners and innocent bystanders,” the two noted. They urged, therefore, that the PLO, controlled largely by Abbas, immediately cease payments in “clear-cut” cases of murder or attempted murder of Israelis.
“Further audit would be needed to determine which cases would be entitled to receive special assistance if they — or any — were found to be nonviolent prisoners,” they argued. “Destitute family members can still receive regular assistance, as can any other Palestinians in need, but they should not receive preferential treatment in a way that rewards acts of terrorism.”