Lawmakers pushed forward Monday with a bill allowing the government to hold up money to the Palestinian Authority over its payments to convicted terrorists, a policy critics say encourages terror attacks on Israelis.
The bill, which passed its first reading on a 55-14 vote, would leave the government’s top-level security cabinet with the final say on whether to “freeze” transfer payments to the PA to offset the stipends.
It will now move to committee and must still pass two more Knesset plenum readings before becoming law.
“[We’re] shutting off the tap on Abu Mazen,” tweeted Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, using PA President Mahmoud Abbas’ nickname.
“This madness, that we’re transferring money to the Palestinian Authority that is used to encourage terror against us, will cease,” he added.
The measure, which would cut hundreds of millions of shekels from tax revenues transferred to the PA, is similar to a measure recently passed in the US, known as the Taylor Force Act, withholding funding to the PA over stipends to terrorists and their families.
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 prisoners serving 20-30 year sentences for carrying out terror attacks are eligible for a lifetime NIS 10,000 ($2,772) 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 ($554). Palestinian prisoners who are married, have children, live in Jerusalem, or hold Israeli citizenship receive additional payments.
The Defense Ministry on Sunday 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.
Critics of the current bill have warned it could bankrupt the PA, leading to its collapse.
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.
Joint (Arab) List MK Ahmad Tibi, whose party opposes the bill, assailed the measure as “extortion of the occupation,” during Monday’s plenum session.
The PA has refused to cease the payments to Palestinian prisoners.
In June 2017, 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.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.