The Palestine Liberation Organization is still paying wages to convicted terrorists imprisoned in Israel, a Palestinian official confirmed Wednesday, contradicting comments by US Secretary of Defense Rex Tillerson that the provocative policy is being stopped.
Issa Qaraqe, head of the Palestinian Committee of Prisoners’ Affairs, said that the PLO had not stopped paying wages to families of prisoners held in Israel and had no intention of stopping.
“There is no end to the payments” of the prisoners and their families, he told the Times of Israel. “We reject ending the subsidies to the prisoners and families of martyrs. We will not apologize for it.”
“The American and Israeli pressure is an aggression against the Palestinian people and the Palestinian Authority,” Qaraqe said, adding that “almost every other household among the Palestinian people is the family of a prisoner or martyr.”
There are some 6,500 Palestinian security prisoners in Israeli jails.
The Palestinians have paid out some NIS 4 billion — or $1.12 billion — over the past four years to terrorists and their families, a former director general of the Ministry of Strategic Affairs and ex-head of the army’s intelligence and research division told a top Knesset panel late last month.
The Haaretz daily said that the Palestinian Prisoners Club, an NGO established to support inmates, also confirmed that this month’s payments were paid out. According to this report, an unidentified Palestinian official said the US administration was aware of how sensitive the issue of the payments is, and was looking at a compromise that would end payments only to some prisoners such as those who actually killed Israelis or failed suicide bombers.
“I know that the allowances were paid this month, and they will be next month too,” Qaraqe said. “I have no information that they won’t be paid to the prisoners and families who receive them, based on the clear, known parameters under Palestinian law.”
His confirmation backed up Israeli claims that the wages were still being paid, despite Tillerson telling US senators the day before that they would be stopped.
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and a second senior diplomatic official both said they had not seen any sign Ramallah was intending to cut off the payments.
“I have to say that I didn’t seen any indication that the Palestinian Authority stopped or intends to stop payments to terrorists and terrorists’ families,” Liberman told Israel Radio Wednesday morning.
“We’re following this closely,” he added.
During a public hearing on Capitol Hill Tuesday with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about the US State Department’s budget, Tillerson indicated that the Palestinian leadership had changed its policy and intended to stop paying the families of terrorists jailed for attacking or killing Israelis.
“They have changed that policy and their intent is to cease the payments to the families of those who have committed murder or violence against others,” Tillerson said. “We have been very clear with them that this [practice of paying terrorists] is simply not acceptable to us.”
US lawmakers are considering legislation that would slash funding to the Palestinians as long as the payments continue.
On Sunday, Israeli ministers green-lighted a local version of the bill, which would cut tax transfers to Palestinians by the amount paid out to the terrorists.
Asked at the hearing about US foreign policy going forward, specifically pertaining to Ramallah policy of paying terrorists, Tillerson said that both he and US President Donald Trump had discussed the issue with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during their recent meetings in Washington and Bethlehem.
When Trump met with Abbas in Washington on May 3, the White House said the US president brought up the issue with the Palestinian leader.
“President Trump raised his concerns about payments to Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails who have committed terrorist acts, and to their families, and emphasized the need to resolve this issue,” the White House said at the time.
The payments are technically carried out by the Palestine Liberation Organization — an umbrella group for Palestinian factions — after Abbas transferred the responsibility away from the PA in an attempt to deflect criticism of the payment system. Abbas is the head of both the PA and the PLO.
Many GOP leaders on Capitol Hill had urged the US president to push Abbas on the payments before the meeting.
Trump met a second time with Abbas, in Bethlehem, on May 23, and told him: “Peace can never take root in an environment where violence is tolerated, funded or rewarded.”