The Knesset voted into law on Monday a bill to slash funds to the Palestinian Authority by the amount Ramallah pays out to convicted terrorists and the families of Palestinians killed while carrying out attacks.
The bipartisan law passed by 87 to 15.
The law’s backers said the legislation would send a message to Palestinians that terror does not pay.
“The PA turned itself into a factory that employs murderers [of] Jews mostly but also Muslims, Christians, Druze, Circassians, and others, including tourists,” said co-sponsor MK Avi Dichter (Likud), who leads the Knesset’s influential Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.
He said the law is meant to send a “moral and principled message” that Israel will not assist in sending money to terrorists, as well as cause the PA to rethink its policy of “encouraging terror.”
Yesh Atid MK Elazar Stern, who also cosponsored the law, said similar legislation in the US, known as the Tayor Force Act, had prompted the Israeli bill.
“We must stop the economic inventive the Palestinian Authority provides to terrorists, an incentive that encourages others to commit terror,” said Stern. “Every Palestinian youth will understand it doesn’t pay to choose the path of terror.”
The bill says that welfare payments paid out by the PA to Palestinian prisoners and their relatives, as well as the families of slain attackers, 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.
Last week, the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee gave its approval for a final plenary vote on the bill, rejecting a request by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to give the top-level security cabinet the final say on whether to “freeze” the payments that would have given ministers the ability to effectively opt out of it.
In a clear act of defiance, lawmakers rejected the motion, voting instead to go ahead with a plenary vote on the original version of the law.
Declaring bipartisan support for the tougher version of the bill, lawmakers from both the coalition and opposition railed against the government’s request for the power to override the measure, saying that including such a clause in the legislation would render it useless.
Under the current law, based on the 1994 Oslo Accords that established the PA and the mechanism for Israeli funding, the finance minister already has the ability to freeze funds.
The measure aims to cut hundreds of millions of shekels from tax revenues transferred to the PA.
According to the 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, 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.
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.
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.