The Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Sunday approved a bill that would slash funds to the Palestinian Authority over salaries paid out by Ramallah to convicted terrorists and their families.
If passed by the Knesset, the legislation would deduct welfare payments paid out by the Palestinian Authority to Palestinian prisoners and their relatives from the tax revenues Israel transfers annually to 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 bill will have to pass three readings in the Knesset plenum before it becomes law. The ministerial panel’s backing on Sunday lends it coalition support, making it all but guaranteed to advance.
The legislation is a softened version of a bill privately proposed by Yesh Atid MK Elazar Stern that would have seen the funds automatically deducted from the PA. Stern, on Sunday, hailed the ministers’ approval of the proposal and called on the government to swiftly pass it into law.
The Defense Ministry’s version of the bill will allow the government to either deduct the funds, which would be irreversible, or “freeze” the payments, leaving the security cabinet with the final say.
After the ministers cleared the bill, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman hailed the move and said the withheld tax revenues would go toward compensating Israeli terror victims who cannot sue their attackers.
“Soon, this theater of the absurd will come to an end, and the salaries of the terrorists that we will withhold from [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud] Abbas will be used to prevent terrorism and compensate victims,” he said.
Critics of the bill have warned it could bankrupt the PA, leading to its collapse.
Last week, Avi Dichter, a Likud MK and former Shin Bet security agency chief, railed against the government proposal, saying the amended version would be ineffective, as the final decision will always be left to the security cabinet, based on diplomatic or national security considerations.
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 not.
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.”
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 ($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.
US President Donald Trump in January 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 United States recently froze some $100 million in aid to the UN agency that deals with Palestinian refugees, calling for reforms to the international body.
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.
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.