UK freezes $30m in Palestinian aid over salaries for terrorists
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UK freezes $30m in Palestinian aid over salaries for terrorists

London says it will investigate whether PA used donor countries' funds to finance payments to terror convicts in Israeli prisons

Illustrative photo of security prisoners in an Israeli prison (photo credit: Moshe Shai/Flash90)
Illustrative photo of security prisoners in an Israeli prison (photo credit: Moshe Shai/Flash90)

The British government’s Department for International Development has reportedly frozen part of its aid to the Palestinian Authority over concerns the aid was being used to fund salaries for convicted Palestinian terrorists.

The move is pending an investigation into the practice, the Sun daily reported.

The Palestinian Authority’s leaders are open about their policy of providing salaries and other benefits to Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons, including those convicted by Israeli civil courts of murder and terrorism, as well as to their families if they are killed while carrying out their attacks.

But the PA says that since 2014, these funds have been paid through the Palestine Liberation Organization, not the PA’s own budget, and so are not drawn from foreign donor governments’ development grants. Critics note that the heads of the PA and PLO are the same individuals, and insist the PLO uses PA funds for the payments.

Earlier this summer, UK lawmakers demanded action after revelations that British aid supposedly paying for civil servants in Gaza was being transferred to the PLO, which was using the money to fund the payments to terrorists.

One Hamas bomber was alleged to have been given more than $100,000. Other stipends paid to terrorists are said to have gone to families of suicide bombers and teenagers attacking Israelis.

The Department for International Development had previously admitted the PLO makes “social welfare” provisions for prisoners’ families but ruled out the idea that UK cash is being diverted in this way.

The Department for International Development’s new secretary, MP Priti Patel, reportedly ordered a review of the PA’s role in funding salaries to terrorists, effectively freezing some £25 million (roughly $30 million) in the current fiscal year, or about one-third of the UK’s total aid to the PA.

One unnamed government source was quoted as telling The Sun: “We are not stopping for the Palestinian Authority overall, just delaying it to a date when we know our money won’t be going to people who do nothing in return for it.”

UK international development minister MP Priti Patel. (Wikipedia/Russell Watkins/Department for International Development/CC BY 2.0)
UK international development minister MP Priti Patel. (Wikipedia/Russell Watkins/Department for International Development/CC BY 2.0)

The move follows this summer’s freezing of UK government grants to World Vision, a charity whose Gaza director has been accused by Israel of using foreign donor money to fund supplies and activities at the behest of Gaza’s Hamas rulers.

In a Friday statement, the top umbrella body of British Jews, the Board of Deputies, praised Patel’s decision.

“The Board of Deputies of British Jews welcomes reports that International Development Secretary Priti Patel has ordered a suspension of aid payments to the Palestinian Authority in order to investigate claims that British tax money is reaching terrorists and their families through the Palestinian Liberation Organization,” the group said.

The statement quoted its senior vice president Richard Verber saying: “We do not take issue with the British Government supporting genuine development in the Palestinian territories. However, we have long been deeply concerned by the Department for International Development’s assertion that British tax money categorically does not fund terrorism and incitement. We welcome this move and hope that a robust and thorough investigation will be carried out. We would also like to thank the Members of Parliament and media organizations who have echoed our concerns with increasing volume over the past few months.”

The UK parliamentary caucus Conservatives Friends of Israel also welcomed the move.

A member of the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, stands next to mock jails during a rally marking Palestinian Prisoner Day in Gaza City on April 17, 2016. (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)
A member of the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, stands next to mock jails during a rally marking Palestinian Prisoner Day in Gaza City on April 17, 2016. (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)

“Today’s announcement is an important step towards peace and those who work for it on all sides. It sends a wake-up call to the Palestinian Authority,” said the group’s chairman, MP Eric Pickles, and its honorary president, House of Lords member Stuart Polak, in a statement.

“As the new Secretary of State for International Development, Priti Patel has acted quickly to challenge a long-standing abuse of well-intentioned international aid money. This announcement will benefit Palestinian residents as funding will be unambiguously focused on coexistence, economic development and peace.”

Pressure on the PA to rethink its support of convicted terrorists through salaries and public celebrations of their acts is growing among Western donor governments.

In September, the German government for the first time admitted that the Palestinian Authority likely grants financial support to terrorists and their families, and vowed to further investigate the matter.

As first reported in The Times of Israel, the Foreign Ministry in Berlin responded to repeated queries by an opposition lawmaker by acknowledging that funds for so-called “martyrs” and Palestinian prisoners sitting in Israeli jails for security-related offenses come not only from the Palestine Liberation Organization but partially from the PA’s own budget.

Germany supports the PA annually with about €160 million ($179 million), but insists that the money only goes to specific development projects and not to the “salaries” for Palestinians held in Israeli prisons or to the relatives of killed terrorists.

“There are Palestinian institutions that make payments to the families of those incarcerated by Israel and the families of those who were killed or wounded. Among them are also relatives of assailants,” reads a Foreign Ministry document from September 1, a copy of which was obtained by The Times of Israel.

The document goes on the explain that Palestinian prisoners get financial support from the PLO Commission for Detainees and Ex-Detainees Affairs because the PA ceased its own payments to prisoners after its Ministry of Detainees and Ex-Detainees Affairs was dissolved two years ago. “The Federal Government is investigating indications that the Palestinian Authority in individual cases supported the PLO’s Commission for Detainees’ budget,” the document states.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at Khartoum's airport, July 19, 2016. (AFP/Ashraf Shazly)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at Khartoum’s airport, July 19, 2016. (AFP/Ashraf Shazly)

In addition, families of Palestinians killed or injured by Israeli security forces, including those who attacked Israeli troops, receive stipends, the document acknowledges. “These payments appear to come from a fund for the killed and injured, which is not part of the PLO budget but is being paid for by the PA’s budget.”

The document was sent to MP Volker Beck, who heads the German-Israeli Parliamentary Friendship Group, in response to a second query he submitted on August 22 after the government’s reply to a previous question left him unsatisfied.

German politician Volker Beck. (CC BY-SA Mathias Schindler/Wikipedia)
German MP Volker Beck (CC BY-SA Mathias Schindler/Wikipedia)

Berlin says it does not fund the PLO but only specific projects by the PA, especially in the areas of development, culture and education, humanitarian aid and civilian crisis prevention.

“If it is confirmed that parts of these described payments [to Palestinian security prisoners or their families] comes from the Palestinian Authority’s budget, the Federal Government will take the matter up with the Palestinian Authority and other partners,” the document states. “The Palestinian Authority and the PLO are called upon to take all necessary steps against the incitement of violence and to increase its efforts in the fight against terrorism.”

In 2014, PA President Mahmoud Abbas — who is also the head of the PLO — closed the PA’s Ministry of Detainees and Ex-Detainees Affairs and converted it into a commission directly subordinate to the PLO.

The move was seen as an effort to avoid international pressure. The PA “is planning a ploy to maintain the salaries but transfer responsibility for payments from the PA to the PLO,” Palestinian Media Watch stated at the time in a press release, noting that Abbas also heads the PLO, and thus “will continue to be directly responsible” for the payments to the prisoners, the group said in a statement.

“The aim of this deliberately misleading move was to alleviate pressure on the PA by donor countries that do not wish their money to be channeled to support terrorism,” Yigal Carmon, the president of the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), told the US House of Representatives’ Committee on Foreign Affairs in July. “However, the offices remained the same and the official in charge remained the same under a new job title. The source of the money remains the PA, which receives them from donor countries, and the overseeing body remains none other than the PA.”

Earlier in August, Beck, a member of the Green Party, had asked in writing what the German government knew about the payments the PA grants to security prisoners and to relatives of wounded or slain terrorists.

Responding on behalf of the government, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier merely stated that the PA stopped payments to prisoners following the dissolution of the Ministry for Prisoners Affairs in 2014, and that the PLO supports families of Palestinians detained in Israel.

“The Palestinian side justifies this by pointing out the need to prevent a descent into poverty by these families, who the Palestinians see as frequent victims of collective penalties such as demolition of housing and revoking of work permits. The extent of this support depends, among other things, on the length of the detainment,” Steinmeier wrote. “To the knowledge of the Federal Government there is no distinction made according to the reasons for detainment.”

In his written response to Beck, Steinmeier did not refer to payments made to Palestinian terrorists and their families.

Beck has now vowed to keep pushing Berlin on the matter.

“It’s good that the government’s not-wanting-to-know is supposed to end now,” he told The Times of Israel. “Germany and the European Union need to make plain to the Palestinian Authority and the PLO that payments to terrorists and their relatives is unacceptable and will not remain without consequences.”

It is inconceivable that German taxpayers finance an institution that gives money to the family of the murderers of Hallel Ariel, he added. Ariel, 13, was stabbed to death in her sleep in her Kiryat Arba home on June 30.

Hallel Yaffe Ariel, 13, was killed in a stabbing attack in her bedroom in the West Bank settlement of Kiryat Arba, June 30, 2016. (Courtesy)
Hallel Yaffe Ariel, 13, was killed in a stabbing attack in her bedroom in the West Bank settlement of Kiryat Arba, June 30, 2016. (Courtesy)

As is apparent from the government’s September 1 response, Berlin knows very well how the system that supports terrorists and their families works, Beck said.

“But that they closed their eyes [to] this problem is not understandable. When I mentioned that problem in 2014 to the Palestinian minister of social affairs he ended our lunch quite abruptly. Senior officials from the German representative office in Ramallah were represented at this meal.”

As per Palestinian law, Ramallah pays nearly $170 million a year to prisoners and families of terrorists. Prisoners’ monthly allowances increase with the length of sentence. According to MEMRI, the allowances range from $364 (NIS 1,500) a month for a term of up to three years, to $3,120 (NIS 13,000) for a term of 30 years and more. There is a monthly $78 supplement for terrorists from Jerusalem and a $130 supplement for Arab Israeli terrorists.

Raphael Ahren and JTA contributed to this report.

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