Lawmakers cheer approval of law slashing PA funds over terror payments

Liberman says legislation is needed to target terrorists’ ‘pockets’; Arab MK slams bill as ‘collective punishment’ of Palestinians

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman leads a Yisrael Beytenu party faction meeting at the Knesset on June 18, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman leads a Yisrael Beytenu party faction meeting at the Knesset on June 18, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Israeli lawmakers hailed Monday’s approval of a law freezing funds for the Palestinian Authority over its payments to convicted terrorists and their families.

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 withheld money would instead go into a fund designated to help victims of terror attacks.

“We promised to stop the salaries for terrorists’ festivities and we did it. Now it is final,” Defense Minister Avidgor Liberman wrote on Twitter.

“Every shekel Abu Mazen pays to terrorists and murderers will automatically be deducted from the budget of the Palestinian Authority,” he said, using PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s nickname. “An effective war on terror also goes for the pocket of the terrorists, their families and Abu Mazen.”

The law’s backers said the legislation would send a message to Palestinians that terror does not pay.

“The PA has 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 attends a Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting on November 13, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Yesh Atid MK Elazar Stern, who also cosponsored the law, said similar legislation in the US, known as the Taylor Force Act, had prompted the Israeli bill.

“It is an historic day. It’s a real step in order to reduce terror and also, as a result, it will help to achieve peace,” he told the Times of Israel.

“We cannot live with a situation in which we pay our enemies to buy weapons or educate kids to kill as many innocents as they can,” said Stern.

Arab and left-wing lawmakers decried the law, with Joint (Arab) List MK Jamal Zahalka suggesting it was in fact Dichter, a former Shin Bet director, who was the terrorist.

“I have no words to describe how despicable this law is and how contemptible the explanations are given by the former Shin Bet head who is responsible for the murder of dozens if not hundreds of people, and who claims he is fighting terror,” said Zahalka.

“Who is the terrorist here? The one who listens to classical music, reads Kafka as if he is cultured and presses the button in a plane that kills hundreds of innocent people,” he said.

Joint (Arab) List MK Jamal Zahalka gestures during a Knesset plenum session on July 26, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Fellow Joint List MK Yosef Jabareen slammed the bill as a form of “collective punishment” and defended the payments.

“These are stipends with a social character in order to help Palestinian families get their bread,” he said. “Whoever is in Israeli custody got his punishment. The true purpose is to continue oppressing the Palestinian people under occupation.”

MK Mossi Raz of the left-wing Meretz party objected that the legislation would not change anything on the ground.

“Will the burning fields in Gaza be put out? Will the occupation end? Will Israelis and Palestinians stop being killed?” he asked.

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 throughout their lifetimes be paid more than NIS 10 million ($2.78 million) each by the PA.

Palestinian women walk past a wall bearing posters, including a portrait of prominent prisoner Marwan Barghouti, during a rally in Ramallah, in support of him and other prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli jails on April 24, 2017. (AFP/Abbas Momani)

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 Abbas, in a speech read by his foreign affairs adviser Nabil Shaath, argued that “payments to support 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.”

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