Defense Ministry drafts bill to cut PA funds over terrorist stipends

Proposal would deduct cash payouts to relatives of Palestinian prisoners and their families from Israeli tax revenues heading to Ramallah

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, second from left, waves with released Palestinian prisoners coming from Israeli jails during celebrations at Abbas's headquarters in the West Bank town of Ramallah, October 30, 2013. (Issam Rimawi/Flash90)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, second from left, waves with released Palestinian prisoners coming from Israeli jails during celebrations at Abbas's headquarters in the West Bank town of Ramallah, October 30, 2013. (Issam Rimawi/Flash90)

The Defense Ministry on Tuesday publicized a draft bill that would deduct welfare payments paid out by the Palestinian Authority to Palestinian prisoners and their families from the tax revenues Israel transfers annually to the PA.

“The Palestinian Authority pays over a billion shekels a year to terrorists and their relatives, thereby encouraging and perpetuating terrorism,” Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said in a statement. “The moment the payments are set based on the severity of the crime and the prison sentence, namely that those who murder and are sentenced to life receive a lot more, this is [tantamount to] funding terror attacks against Israelis.”

The bill, which targets cash payments by the PA to jailed or injured terrorists and their relatives, will also apply to Palestinians who committed other crimes for which they are being compensated by the PA, the ministry said in a statement.

The Palestine Liberation Organization gives monthly payments to all Palestinian prisoners jailed in Israel, no matter the reason for their incarceration, and also to families of so-called “martyrs” — a term used by the PLO to refer to anyone killed by an Israeli, whether the person was killed attacking Israelis or an innocent bystander.

A recent report published by the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), the Israeli Defense Ministry agency responsible for administering civilian affairs in the West Bank and the crossings with Gaza, said that around one-third of the Palestinian prisoners are “directly responsible for the murder of Israelis.”

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman arrives at the weekly government meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, on December 31, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

According to the Defense Ministry, the Palestinian Authority 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 security prisoners serving 20-30 year sentences for carrying out terror attacks are eligible for a lifetime NIS 10,000 ($1,900) monthly stipend, the Defense Ministry said, citing PA figures. Those prisoners who receive a 3-5 year sentence get a monthly wage of NIS 2,000 ($580). Palestinian prisoners who are married, have children, live in Jerusalem, or hold Israeli citizenship receive additional payments.

“For illustrative purposes, the average salary in the West Bank stands at just over NIS 2,000 ($580) a month,” the Defense Ministry said.

According to the proposed legislation, each year the defense minister will convene a ministerial panel to tally the deductions from the tax funds gathered for the PA. Under an economic agreement signed in 1994, Israel transfers to the PA tens of millions of dollars each year in customs duties levied on goods destined for Palestinian markets that transit through Israeli ports.

The Defense Ministry announcement came a week after US President Donald Trump threatened aid cuts to the PA, asking why Washington should make “any of these massive future payments” when the Palestinians were “no longer willing to talk peace.” The US envoy to the United Nations had earlier floated the option of reducing funding to UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees.

US lawmakers have also been advancing the Taylor Force Act — named for a US national killed in a Tel Aviv stabbing terror attack — which would cut US funding to the PA unless it discontinued its practice of paying monthly stipends to the families of terrorists who kill Israelis.

Monday’s bill, the Israeli equivalent of the US Taylor Force Act, was drafted after months of deliberations by a special task force from the Defense Ministry, Justice Ministry, and security agencies. It will be brought to the Knesset’s Ministerial Committee for Legislation in the coming months, the ministry said.

A similar proposal by Yesh Atid MK Elazar Stern passed its preliminary reading last year and has since been under review by the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

The PA has refused to cease the payments to Palestinian prisoners.

In June, 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. They are, in effect, the victims of the occupation, not the creators of the occupation,” Abbas said.

Dov Lieber contributed to this report.

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