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Despite controversy, Palestinians continue to defend prisoner payments

Spokesperson says PA leader Mahmoud Abbas is keeping up ‘the battle over the pensions of the prisoners and martyrs’

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas adjusts his glasses as he listens during a joint statement with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, on May 25, 2021, in the West Bank city of Ramallah. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, Pool, File)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas adjusts his glasses as he listens during a joint statement with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, on May 25, 2021, in the West Bank city of Ramallah. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, Pool, File)

The Palestinian Authority has continued to defend its controversial policy of paying stipends for Palestinians imprisoned, wounded, or killed by Israel, including those convicted of terror attacks, despite international criticism.

“The president is continuing the battle over the pensions of the prisoners and martyrs. They will receive their daily bread,” PA presidential spokesperson Nabil Abu Rudeinah was quoted as saying by official PA television in late January.

Ramallah paid out around NIS 600 million ($187 million) in salaries for Palestinians imprisoned, jailed, or killed by Israel in 2020, according to a senior Palestine Liberation Organization official.

The practice of paying allowances to those convicted of carrying out terror attacks and to the families of those killed while carrying out attacks — often referred to by some Israeli officials as a pay-to-slay policy — has been pilloried by critics as incentivizing terror.

Palestinian leaders have long defended the payments, describing them as a form of social welfare and necessary compensation for victims of Israel’s military justice system in the West Bank.

“Why should we have to clarify and justify providing assistance to families of prisoners and martyrs, who are the victims of the occupation and its oppressive policies? We cannot abandon our people and we will continue striving to free all our prisoners,” PA President Mahmoud Abbas said in a speech to the UN General Assembly in September.

Palestinians attends a rally in solidarity to the escape of the six Palestinian prisoners from the Israeli prison of Gilboa on September 8, 2021, in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

The United States has pressured Ramallah to end the policy in recent years. In 2018, Congress passed legislation banning the US government from sending aid to the PA until it ended the practice. The matter remains a key bone of contention between the two sides.

During a November visit, US diplomat Linda Thomas-Greenfield told Abbas to avoid “payments to individuals imprisoned for terrorism,” according to a US readout.

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