PA slams Israeli bill to withhold money it uses to pay prisoners

Ministerial Committee for Legislation wants to deduct welfare payments to terrorists and other security prisoners, and their families, from tax revenues

Khaled Abu Toameh is the Palestinian Affairs correspondent for The Times of Israel

Illustrative. Palestinians celebrate after Palestinian prisoners end a hunger strike over their conditions in Israeli jails, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, May 27, 2017. (Flash90)
Illustrative. Palestinians celebrate after Palestinian prisoners end a hunger strike over their conditions in Israeli jails, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, May 27, 2017. (Flash90)

The Palestinians on Sunday expressed outrage over an Israeli bill that allows the Israeli government to slash funds to the Palestinian Authority because of salaries paid to security prisoners and their families.

Condemning the bill as an act of “piracy,” the PA government said it would continue to support the prisoners and the families of “martyrs.”

On Sunday, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation approved the bill, which calls for deducting welfare payments paid to the prisoners and their families from the tax revenues that Israel transfers to the PA.

The bill will have to pass three readings in the Knesset plenum before it becomes law.

The bill would see Israel cut around NIS 1 billion ($285 million) from the annual tax revenues it collects for the Palestinians and hands over to them — equivalent to the amount, Israel says, that Ramallah pays to terrorists and their families, a practice Israel and the international community have attempted to end.

The bill was initiated by opposition Yesh Atid MK Elazar Stern, who warned last week that the current “absurdity” prevents the sides from drawing closer in the pursuit of peace.

“The Palestinian Authority not only rewards murder but encourages it, and encourages murder over [just] causing injury, and encourages many victims rather than just a few… That is something that must stop, not only because it isn’t moral but because it is a barrier to peace… for how can you make peace with those who encourage murder?”

Reacting to the decision of the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, the PA denounced the move as an act of “piracy and flagrant theft of money.”

Youssef Mahmoud, spokesperson for the PA government, said that the prisoners held by Israel are “symbols of freedom.”

The prisoners, he added, “represent the generous and noble vanguard of humanity that does not accept oppression and occupation.”

Mahmoud said that Israel, and not the PA, was the party that should be held accountable. Israel, he argued, should “pay compensation to the affected Palestinians in the region.”

The PA spokesperson said that Israel was the main cause of “every crisis and damage and a source of dangers and tension.”

The Israeli bill is “yet another crime for which Israel should be held accountable,” Mahmoud said.

The PA Information Ministry strongly condemned the move to deduct the funds from the tax revenues and described the Israeli government as a gang of terrorists.

According to the ministry, the bill would be added to a series of “racist Israeli laws.”

The funds that Israel is planning to deduct would be transferred to “extremists and killers,” the ministry charged.

The PA ministry praised the security prisoners and “martyrs,” dubbing them “the address of our freedom.”

Palestinian Authority official Issa Qaraqe gives a press conference in Ramallah on the large number of Palestinians staging hunger strikes in Israeli jails on April 19, 2017. (AFP/Abbas Momani)

Issa Qaraqe, director of the Palestinian Prisoners Commission, said that the approval of the bill was in “the context of the campaign of incitement and hostility waged by the occupation government against the prisoners and the families of the martyrs and wounded.”

The new Israeli bill, he added, “contravenes international and humanitarian laws and is considered an act of financial piracy and systematic political terrorism.”

The position of the Palestinian leadership, refusing to abandon the families of the prisoners and “martyrs,” is clear, Qaraqe said. “This is an issue that is not subject to bargaining or blackmail.”

He said that the PA leadership was also opposed to Israel’s attempt to portray the prisoners and “martyrs” as terrorists and murderers.

Qadura Fares, a former PA minister and a member of Fatah who heads the Palestinian Prisoners Club, also denounced the approval of the bill as an act of “piracy,” saying it was intended to appease Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman because of opposition to his call for implementing the death sentence against Palestinian terrorists.

The bill, Fares said, comes in the context of Israeli attempts to pressure the Palestinians and link their struggle to terrorism.

The Palestinian leadership will not change its policy toward the prisoners and their families and will not succumb to pressure from any party, he added.

“Like previous ones, this move too will be thwarted,” Fares vowed.

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