Australia has ended direct aid to the Palestinian Authority over fears its donations will be used to pay Palestinians convicted of terrorism and their families.
Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said Monday that funding to a World Bank trust fund was cut after she wrote to the Palestinian Authority in late May seeking assurance that Australian funding was not being misspent.
In a statement, Bishop expressed concern that providing further aid would allow the PA to use the funds for activities that “Australia would never support.”
Israel has long accused the PA and its leader, Mahmoud Abbas, of encouraging terror attacks against Israelis by rewarding perpetrators and their families with monthly stipends. It has even withheld millions in tax revenues over the Palestinians’ unwillingness to change its policy. Israeli lawmakers are also advancing a law to slash funds to the PA by the same amount it uses to pay terrorists.
“Any assistance provided by the Palestine Liberation Organization to those convicted of politically motivated violence is an affront to Australian values, and undermines the prospect of meaningful peace between Israel and the Palestinians,” Bishop said in a statement.
“I wrote to the Palestinian Authority on May 29, to seek clear assurance that Australian funding is not being used to assist Palestinians convicted of politically motivated violence,” she wrote.
“I am confident that previous Australian funding to the PA through the World Bank has been used as intended,” Bishop added. “However, I am concerned that in providing funds for this aspect of the PA’s operations there is an opportunity for it to use its own budget to activities that Australia would never support.”
Australia’s AUD 10 million ($7.4 million) donation to the trust fund will now be rerouted to the United Nations’ Humanitarian Fund for the Palestinian Territories, which provides Palestinians with health care, food, water, improved sanitation and shelter.
Bishop said the UN body “helps 1.9 million people. Approximately 75 per cent of its funding will be spent in Gaza where the humanitarian situation continues to deteriorate.”
Australia allocated AUD $43 million for humanitarian assistance in the region for the current fiscal year, which began on July 1.
Australian government lawmaker Eric Abetz welcomed Bishop’s stance.
“Minister Bishop’s strong and decisive decision today to ensure that the Palestinian Authority can no longer use our aid to free up money in its budget for state-promoted terrorism is very positive,” Abetz said.
“It is vital that we ensure that our foreign aid is not being spent on, or making money available for, the promotion of terrorism and so funneling our aid to the Palestinian Territories through the United Nations will provide greater assurance that the Palestinian Authority’s clever accounting cannot occur,” he added.
In March, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the US government for passing a law that suspended some financial aid to the Palestinians over the stipends paid to families of Palestinians killed or jailed in fighting with Israel.
The Taylor Force Act, named after an American killed in Israel by a Palestinian in 2016, was folded into a $1.3 trillion spending bill signed by President Donald Trump.
Netanyahu called the law a “powerful signal by the US that changes the rules” by cutting “hundreds of millions of dollars for the Palestinian Authority that they invest in encouraging terrorism.”
According to Israel’s Defense Ministry, the PA in 2017 paid NIS 687 million ($198 million) to the so-called “martyrs’ families fund” and NIS 550 million ($160 million) to the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club — some 7 percent of its overall budget.
Palestinian prisoners serving 20- to 30-year sentences for carrying out terror attacks are eligible for a lifetime NIS 10,000 ($2,772) monthly stipend, the Defense Ministry said last week, citing PA figures. Those prisoners who receive a three- to five-year sentence get a monthly wage of NIS 2,000 ($554). Palestinian prisoners who are married, have children, live in Jerusalem, or hold Israeli citizenship receive additional payments.
The Defense Ministry last month released figures alleging that some terrorists who killed Israelis will be paid more than NIS 10 million ($2.78 million) each throughout their lifetimes by the PA.
Last week, Israeli lawmakers gave the final go-ahead for a decisive vote on a bill that would slash funds to the Palestinian Authority by the amount Ramallah pays out to convicted terrorists, rejecting a request by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to give the top-level security cabinet the final say on whether to “freeze” the payments.
The bill, proposed by Yesh Atid MK Elazar Stern and Likud MK Avi Dichter, says that welfare payments paid out by the PA to Palestinian prisoners and their relatives must be deducted from tax revenues Israel transfers annually to the administrative body. The money withheld in this way would instead go into a fund designated to help victims of terror attacks.
The PA has refused to cease its payments to Palestinian prisoners.
In June 2017, PA President Mahmoud Abbas, in a speech read by his foreign affairs adviser Nabil Shaath, argued that “payments to support the families are a social responsibility to look after innocent people affected by the incarceration or killing of their loved ones.
“It’s quite frankly racist rhetoric to call all our political prisoners terrorists,” Abbas said. “They are, in actuality, the victims of the occupation, not the creators of the occupation.”
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.