A senior Palestinian Authority official has rejected the “insane” demand that it end its policy of providing social welfare payments to the families of Palestinian terrorists jailed for carrying out attacks against Israelis.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s foreign affairs adviser Nabil Shaath on Thursday told Israel Radio the demand was intentionally designed to sink any potential for renewed US-led Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
He told the radio station that the Palestinian prisoners were victims of Israel’s control over the West Bank.
“It’s absurd to request that we stop paying the families of prisoners,” he said. “That would be like asking Israel to stop paying its soldiers.”
While Israel and some of its Republican allies have demanded that the PA curtail those payments as a condition for receiving aid, US President Donald Trump has stopped short of publicly endorsing that position. It wasn’t immediately clear whether Shaath was rejecting Israel’s demand or referring to reports the administration would align itself with Jerusalem on the issue. He later clarified to The Times of Israel that he was referring to “Netanyahu’s campaign to disturb the meeting between President Abbas and President Trump.”
During the radio interview, Shaath also insisted Abbas’s first meeting with Trump on Wednesday was a positive one and a possible starting point for future talks with Israel.
According to Shaath, Trump used “language of respect and appreciation” in praising Abbas for his willingness to return to the negotiating table.
During the Wednesday meeting, Trump urged Abbas to stop incitement, crack down on terrorism, and “resolve” his West Bank government’s policy of making payments to families of Israeli-held security prisoners.
“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 in a readout of the two leaders’ first face-to-face meeting.
Some 6,500 Palestinians are currently detained by Israel for a range of terror offenses and crimes. Around 500 are being held under Israel’s system of administrative detention, which allows for imprisonment without charge.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said the salaries paid to imprisoned terrorists by the PA constitute a major obstacle to peace.
On Tuesday, three GOP senators urged the US president to push the Palestinian leader on the PA’s cash payments.
During a joint statement in the Roosevelt Room of the White House after the Wednesday meeting, Trump only subtly referenced Palestinian violence, saying there could be no “lasting peace unless the Palestinian leaders speak in a unified voice against incitement to violence and hate.”
Abbas, for his part, asserted “that we are raising our youth, our children, our grandchildren on a culture of peace.”
Wednesday’s press conference took place before the two had a working luncheon with a US and Palestinian delegation. Trump had invited Abbas, 82, to the White House as part of his efforts to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
Also Wednesday, Ahmad Majdalan, a senior PLO official and adviser to Abbas, told Israel Radio that in May 2014, Netanyahu’s chief negotiator Yitzchak Molcho, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat and US secretary of state John Kerry signed a document allowing the Palestinians to pay salaries to prisoners’ families from the Palestinian Liberation Organization fund instead of from the Palestinian Authority treasury.
The Prime Minister’s Office on Wednesday rejected the claim, calling it “another Palestinian invention, which never happened, which was intended to distract from the discussion of the demand to stop the Palestinian Authority funding terrorists.”
Eric Cortellessa contributed to this report.