PA lambastes Australia for nixing aid, says decision ‘not grounded in facts’

Ramallah accuses Canberra of siding with Israeli ‘colonialism’ under US pressure, insists foreign aid was never used to pay stipends for Palestinian terrorists

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop at United Nations headquarters, March 6, 2018. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop at United Nations headquarters, March 6, 2018. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

The Palestinian Authority on Tuesday slammed Australia’s “cruel” decision to end its direct aid to the Ramallah government, calling the move politically motivated and saying it “has no grounding in facts.”

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop announced Monday that Australia had ended its direct government aid to the PA over fears its funds would be used to pay welfare stipends to families of Palestinians killed or jailed for attacks on Israel.

The funds will instead be provided to UN aid efforts to Palestinians.

In a statement, the Palestinian envoy to Australia, Izzat Abdulhadit, expressed the PA’s “deepest disappointment and concern” at the decision.

He asserted the Australian aid was never used to pay the stipends of convicted terrorists, and said the “stringent auditing procedures” of the governing World Bank trust fund could prove it.

“We have therefore concluded that this decision is political in nature, for its justification has no grounding in facts,” the statement said. “It has less to do with genuine concerns about terrorism and the stifled peace process than it does with domestic political expediency.”

Abdulhadit went on to say that by “ignoring Israel’s ever-expanding colonial project,” Australia had sided with the Jewish state, and “again apportioned all blame to only one side, the much weaker and disenfranchised one at that.”

Member of the Executive Committee of the PLO Hanan Ashrawi, speaking at a press conference on February 24, 2015 in Ramallah. (WAFA)

PA official Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the PLO Executive Committee, said in a statement that Australia “seems to have succumbed to the US administration’s pressure in compounding the injustice of Israel’s military occupation by punishing its Palestinian victims.

“This unjustified and cruel move further targets the Palestinians who are already being held captive, while ignoring the persistent violations and war crimes being committed by the Israeli occupation.”

The statement insisted that the Palestinians are committed to nonviolent resistance, and urged Bishop to reverse the decision.

“We strongly urge the government of Australia to reconsider its decision and not embolden Israel in its unilateral and illegal policies,” Ashrawi said. “Bringing Israel to compliance with international law and international humanitarian law would be the most constructive action for governments interested in peace and justice.”

Israel has long accused the PA and its leader, Mahmoud Abbas, of encouraging terror attacks against Israelis by rewarding perpetrators and their families with monthly stipends, and on occasion has withheld millions of dollars in tax revenues over Ramallah’s unwillingness to change the controversial policy.

Mahmoud Abbas celebrates the return of Palestinian prisoners in August 2013 (photo credit: Issam Rimawi/Flash90)

On Monday, Bishop announced that state funding to the World Bank trust fund for Palestinians had been cut after she requested assurances from the PA earlier this year that Australian funding was not being misspent.

The minister expressed concern that providing further aid would allow the PA to use the funds for activities that “Australia would never support.”

“Any assistance provided by the Palestine Liberation Organization to those convicted of politically motivated violence is an affront to Australian values, and undermines the prospect of meaningful peace between Israel and the Palestinians,” Bishop said in a statement. “I wrote to the Palestinian Authority on May 29, to seek clear assurance that Australian funding is not being used to assist Palestinians convicted of politically motivated violence.”

“I am confident that previous Australian funding to the PA through the World Bank has been used as intended,” Bishop added. “However, I am concerned that in providing funds for this aspect of the PA’s operations there is an opportunity for it to use its own budget to activities that Australia would never support.”

Australia’s AUD 10 million ($7.4 million) donation to the trust fund will now be rerouted to the United Nations’ Humanitarian Fund for the Palestinian Territories, which provides Palestinians with health care, food, water, improved sanitation and shelter.

Bishop said the UN body “helps 1.9 million people. Approximately 75 percent of its funding will be spent in Gaza where the humanitarian situation continues to deteriorate.”

Australia allocated AUD $43 million for humanitarian assistance in the region for the current fiscal year, which began on July 1.

According to Israel’s 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.

Palestinians take part in a demonstration in support of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails, in Gaza City, on April 17, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS)

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 last week, 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.

Hours after the Australian announcement, Knesset lawmakers voted in favor of a bill that would officially see Israel deduct customs fees it collects on behalf of the PA by the amount Ramallah pays out to convicted terrorists each year.

The bipartisan bill, proposed by Yesh Atid MK Elazar Stern and Likud MK Avi Dichter, passed by 87 to 15 in a late-night vote.

The PA has refused to cease its payments to Palestinian prisoners.

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