Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told cabinet ministers on Sunday he would, in a week’s time, begin cutting funds to the Palestinian Authority over its payments to terrorists and their families.
“By the end of the week, the staff work required for implementing the law on deducting terrorists’ salaries will be completed,” the prime minister said at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem.
“Next Sunday I will convene the security cabinet and we will approve the decision needed to withhold the funds. The funds will be deducted. No one should doubt that. And next week,” he vowed.
The comments come amid pressure on Netanyahu to act after the arrest of a Palestinian man, Arafat Irfayia, 29, on Friday following the brutal murder of 19-year-old Ori Ansbacher in a southern Jerusalem wood a day earlier.
The case has sparked outrage across the country.
The Shin Bet security service, Israel Police and IDF are still investigating the murder, but increasingly suspect that Irfayia had a nationalistic motive. The prime minister has not directly referred to the murder as a terror attack.
The Knesset passed a law in July slashing Palestinian tax funds Israel transfers to the PA by the amount Ramallah pays to convicted terrorists and the families of Palestinians killed while carrying out attacks.
The law was opposed by Israeli security officials who fear further cuts to the Palestinian Authority’s budget could hurt security cooperation or destabilize the West Bank and lead to new terror attacks against Israelis.
The government has refused to implement the power given to it by the law to freeze the fund transfers. But politicians have faced public pressure to crack down on the PA’s payments, which are viewed as incentivizing terror attacks.
The Yesh Atid party slammed Netanyahu’s statement Sunday, calling it too little too late.
“It’s a shame it took [Netanyahu] ‘only’ 40 days [since the law came into force] and the despicable murder of Ori Ansbacher to decide to act,” the party’s statement said.
“If the prime minister… was focused on the lives of the public and not just on his own investigations, the law for the deduction of terrorists’ salaries, which we passed together with [Likud MK] Avi Dichter, would already have been implemented, and the motivation of potential terrorists would have been lessened. We hope this time Netanyahu will actually act, and not suffice with pronouncements,” the statement concluded.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett welcomed the move, but also noted the delay in implementation since the law came into effect.
“This promise must be fulfilled as soon as possible,” Bennett tweeted. “But it should be noted that the law has been valid for more than a month and has not yet been implemented.”
A PA law legislated in 2004 says any Palestinian prisoner and his or her family are entitled to a variety of payments. The law defines a prisoner as “anyone who is sitting in the occupation’s prisons for participating in the struggle against the occupation” and calls such a person “part and parcel of the Palestinian Arab community’s fabric.”
Palestinian officials have argued payments to security prisoners seek to mitigate what they call an unfair Israeli military court system.
The conviction rate in Israel’s military courts stands at almost 100 percent, B’tselem, an Israeli rights group said in a March 2018 report.
The PA allocated NIS 691 million ($183 million) for the families of so-called “martyrs” and wounded persons in its 2018 budget, a report by the Jerusalem-based think tank JCPA said last week.
“Martyrs” include Palestinians killed while carrying out terror attacks against Israelis, as well as those killed in clashes with security forces, violent acts undertaken by settlers and other cases.
It is not clear exactly how many “martyrs” were killed while carrying out attacks.
Last March, US President Donald Trump signed into law legislation that requires the American government to cut some aid to the Palestinians until they end payments to terrorists and slain attackers. Since Trump signed the legislation, his administration has cut hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to the Palestinians.
Abbas has said the PA will continue to pay stipends to the families of Palestinian security prisoners and “martyrs” even if it has to spend its last penny to do so.
“We will not accept a cut or cancellation of salaries to the families of martyrs and prisoners, as some are trying to bring about,” he told representatives of a Palestinian prisoners advocacy group in July. “Even if we have only a penny left, we will give it to the martyrs, the prisoners and their families.”
On Sunday morning the IDF entered Irfayia’s home in the West Bank city of Hebron in order to measure the structure “to evaluate ways to demolish it,” the army said.
Right-wing politicians over the weekend called for the instituting of a death penalty for terrorists in Israeli law.
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked told Channel 13 news Saturday that “the military prosecution needs to ask for the death penalty.”
“We should not hide the truth,” she told the news channel. “He killed Ori because she was a Jewish girl.”
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan told the Kan public broadcaster on Sunday that the death penalty should be used in certain circumstances.
“If the murderer abused his victim and if we understand that there is no way to rehabilitate him, and in cases of the murder of a family, the death penalty should be used,” Erdan said.
Ansbacher, from the settlement of Tekoa in the West Bank south of Jerusalem, was found dead in the woods at the Ein Yael nature reserve in south Jerusalem late Thursday with what police said were “signs of violence” on her body after she was reported missing earlier in the day.