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Arab MK slams bill to cut PA funding over ‘martyr’ payments

Joint List lawmaker Youssef Jabareen says if Israel wants to stop families of convicted terrorists receiving money, it should free all Palestinian prisoners

Raoul Wootliff is the Times of Israel's former political correspondent and producer of the Daily Briefing podcast.

Joint (Arab) List MK Youssef Jabareen during a committee meeting in the  Knesset, December 13, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Joint (Arab) List MK Youssef Jabareen during a committee meeting in the Knesset, December 13, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

An Arab Israeli lawmaker on Monday decried a proposed law that would slash funds to the Palestinian Authority over salaries paid out by Ramallah to convicted terrorists and their families.

The bill, approved Sunday by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, “would impose collective punishment on the Palestinian population,” MK Youssef Jabareen from the Joint (Arab) List said in a statement.

The legislation would see Israel cut around NIS 1 billion ($285 million) from the annual tax revenues it collects for the Palestinians and hands over to them, equivalent to the amount that Ramallah pays to terrorists and their families — a practice Israel and the international community have been attempting to end.

The bill is expected be brought to a preliminary vote in the plenum on Wednesday.

Jabareen, who hails from the Jewish-Arab Hadash faction within the umbrella Joint List party, said the payments were akin to National Insurance benefits payed by Israel to elderly and unemployed citizens and women on maternity leave, among others. “These payments are intended to help the families of prisoners make ends meet,” he said.

“There are nearly no Palestinian families today that do not have a relative who is a prisoner or a released prisoner,” Jabareen added. “If you want to end these payments, free the prisoners as a move toward peace.”

There are some 6,500 Palestinian security prisoners in Israeli jails.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas poses with prisoners released on October 30, 2013 as part of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. (Issam Rimawi/Flash90)
PA President Mahmoud Abbas poses with prisoners released on October 30, 2013, as part of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. (Issam Rimawi/Flash90)

Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh, who also heads the Hadash faction within the party, declined to answer questions posed by The Times of Israel on whether he agreed with Jabareen’s criticism or personally advocated the continuation of the payments.

Authored by Yesh Atid MK Elazar Stern, the bill has been co-signed by Knesset members from both the government and opposition, including coalition chair David Bitan and Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chair Avi Dichter, both of Likud.

Stern warned in a Sunday statement that the current “absurdity” prevents the sides from drawing closer in the pursuit of peace.

“The Palestinian Authority not only rewards murder but encourages it, and encourages murder over [just] causing injury, and encourages many victims rather than just a few… That is something that must stop, not only because it isn’t moral but because it is a barrier to peace… for how can you make peace with those who encourage murder,” he said.

A Hamas prisoner released as part of the Shalit deal embraces his family member in Ramallah, October 18, 2011 (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90)
A Hamas prisoner released as part of the Shalit deal embraces his family member in Ramallah, October 18, 2011 (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

Israel transfers about NIS 460 million ($125 million) a month, or NIS 5.4 billion ($1.5 billion) a year, to the Palestinian Authority in tax and customs duties levied on goods destined for Palestinian markets that transit through Israeli ports. The transfers are a key revenue source for the cash-strapped Palestinian government. Israel has withheld payment in the past over political disputes.

The explanation accompanying the proposed legislation says that in 2016, the Palestinian Authority paid out some NIS 1.1 billion ($303 million) in stipends and other benefits to the families of so-called “martyrs” who lost their lives during attacks against Israelis and to Palestinian prisoners serving time in Israeli jails for security offenses.

According to PA law, Palestinian security prisoners serving time in Israeli jails and families of assailants killed while carrying attacks against Israelis are eligible to receive stipends and other benefits.

The Middle East Media Research Institute estimates that 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 also a monthly $78 supplement for terrorists from Jerusalem and a $130 supplement for Arab Israeli terrorists.

Fatah official Kadoura Fares (photo credit: Flash90)
Fatah official Kadoura Fares (Flash90)

The chairman of the Palestinian Prisoners Club Qadura Fares, who is a former PA minister without a portfolio and a member of Fatah, branded the bill Sunday an attempt “to stigmatize the Palestinian struggle with terrorism and to conflate the issues of the so-called war on terror with the Palestinian martyrs and prisoners who fought for freedom.”

He said the bill “strongly contradicts international law.”

He noted that the payments can be traced back to measures enacted by the Palestinian Liberation Organization in 1966, and vowed they “will not stop.”

Stern’s bill represents the first time the issue has been tackled through Israeli legislation, and follows similar efforts to limit US funding to the PA.

Israel has long argued that the PA’s payments glorify terrorism, part of what it sees as a broader trend of “incitement” blamed for fueling a surge of violence last year.

The issue of PA payments to terrorists received heightened media coverage during US President Donald Trump’s visit to Israel last month, during which he met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

The PA has 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.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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