Israel may deduct ‘martyr’ payments from PA funds
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Israel may deduct ‘martyr’ payments from PA funds

Local version of ‘Taylor Force Act’ calls for withholding a billion shekels in Palestinian tax revenue, equivalent to the sum paid to terrorists and their families

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Mahmoud Abbas celebrates the return of released Palestinian security prisoners in August 2013 (Issam Rimawi/Flash90)
Mahmoud Abbas celebrates the return of released Palestinian security prisoners in August 2013 (Issam Rimawi/Flash90)

Following similar efforts by US lawmakers, Israeli ministers will vote on a proposal to deduct the amount of money provided by the Palestinian Authority to convicted terrorists and their families from funds that Israel regularly transfers to the PA.

The bill, which is on the agenda for Sunday’s meeting of the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, would see Israel cut around NIS 1 billion ($285 million) from the tax revenues it collects for the Palestinians and hands over to them — equivalent to the amount that Ramallah pays to terrorists and their families.

Authored by Yesh Atid’s MK Elazar Stern, the bill has been co-signed by Knesset members from both the coalition and opposition, including coalition chair David Bitan and Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chair Avi Dichter, both of Likud.

The proposed legislation says that in 2016, the Palestinian Authority paid out some NIS 1.1 billion ($303 million) in stipends and other benefits to the families of so-called “martyrs” who lost their lives during attacks against Israelis, and Palestinian prisoners serving time in Israeli jails for security offenses.

Yesh Atid MK Elazar Stern, speaks during a conference for Young Leadership programs, at Haifa University, on April 11, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Yesh Atid MK Elazar Stern speaks during a conference for Young Leadership programs, at Haifa University, on April 11, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Stern called the stipends “an incentive to murder Jews” and said Israel must put an end to the PA policy.

“The funds transferred to terrorists are not just incitement but they are an incentive to carry out terror attacks,” Stern said in a Tuesday press release. “The Palestinian Authority is effectively encouraging the murder of Israelis. We have an obligation to stop this.”

Israel transfers about NIS 460 million ($125 million) a month, or NIS 5.4 billion ($1.5 billion) a year, to the Palestinian Authority in tax and customs rebates levied on goods destined for Palestinian markets that transit through Israeli ports. The transfers are a key revenue source for the cash-strapped Palestinian government. Israel has withheld payment in the past over political disputes.

According to PA law, Palestinian security prisoners serving time in Israeli jails and families of assailants killed while carrying attacks against Israelis are eligible to receive stipends and other benefits.

The Middle East Media Research Institute estimates that the allowances range from $364 (NIS 1,500) a month for a term of up to three years, to $3,120 (NIS 13,000) for a term of 30 years and more. There is also a monthly $78 supplement for terrorists from Jerusalem and a $130 supplement for Arab Israeli terrorists.

Hamas terrorist Nael Barghouti waves a green Islamic flag and a Palestinian flag to the crowd after arriving in the West Bank city of Ramallah. after he was released as part of an exchange for Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier held by Hamas, October 18, 2011. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)
Hamas terrorist Nael Barghouti waves a green Islamic flag and a Palestinian flag to the crowd after arriving in the West Bank city of Ramallah after he was released as part of an exchange for Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier held by Hamas, October 18, 2011. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

Israel has long argued the PA’s payments glorify terrorism, part of what it sees as a broader trend of “incitement” blamed for fueling a surge of violence last year.

Stern’s bill represents the first time the issue has been tackled through Israeli legislation, and follows similar efforts to limit US funding to the PA.

Republican South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham reintroduced legislation in March that would cut US funding if it continues to provide monetary support to the families of those who commit acts of terror against Israelis and others.

Vanderbilt graduate student Taylor Force was killed Tuesday March 9, 2016 in a terror attack in Jaffa. (Facebook)
Vanderbilt graduate student Taylor Force was killed Tuesday March 9, 2016 in a terror attack in Jaffa. (Facebook)

The bill, known as the Taylor Force Act, is named after former US army officer Taylor Force, who was stabbed to death in March 2016 by a Palestinian terrorist while visiting Tel Aviv.

Force was a graduate student at Vanderbilt University and was traveling with other students on a program studying global entrepreneurship. He was 29 years old at the time and had served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The issue of PA payments to terrorists received heightened media coverage during US President Donald Trump’s visit to Israel last month, during which he met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

In an apparent public upbraiding of Abbas over the payments, Trump told him at their joint press conference in Bethlehem that “peace can never take root in an environment where violence is tolerated, funded or rewarded.”

US President Donald Trump, left, and President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas give a joint press conference at the presidential palace in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, May 23, 2017. (AFP/Mandel Ngan)
US President Donald Trump, left, and President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas give a joint press conference at the presidential palace in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, May 23, 2017. (AFP/Mandel Ngan)

Behind closed doors, Trump fumed at Abbas for lying to him, Israel’s Channel 2 reported shortly after the trip. “You tricked me in DC! You talked there about your commitment to peace, but the Israelis showed me your involvement in incitement [against Israel],” Trump was said to have shouted at a shocked Abbas.

On May 3 in Washington, at the first meeting between the two, Trump urged Abbas to stop incitement, crack down on terrorism, and “resolve” his government’s policy of paying stipends to terrorists and their families.

Abbas, for his part, told Trump in their joint White House press conference that “we are raising our youth, our children, our grandchildren on a culture of peace.”

In the wake of that claim, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slammed Abbas, saying that the statement was “far from the truth.”

Tamar Pileggi contributed to this report.

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