PLO says $15 million per month being paid in terror stipends

Prisoners’ affairs chief tells ToI as much as $181 million paid in 2020; PA payments to security prisoners, terrorists’ families, has brought international criticism

Relatives of Palestinians held in Israeli jails hold their portraits during a protest to mark "Prisoners Day" in the West Bank city of Ramallah, April 7, 2019. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)
Relatives of Palestinians held in Israeli jails hold their portraits during a protest to mark "Prisoners Day" in the West Bank city of Ramallah, April 7, 2019. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

Ramallah may have paid as much as NIS 600 million ($181 million) in 2020 in salaries to Palestinians imprisoned by Israel for security offenses — including terrorism — and their families, a Palestine Liberation Organization official said on Thursday.

“We pay around NIS 50 million ($15 million) per month in salaries,” PLO Commissioner for Prisoners’ Affairs Qadri Abu Bakr said in a phone call with The Times of Israel.

Ramallah has a longstanding policy of compensating Palestinians jailed by Israel for security offenses, as well as those wounded or killed by Israeli forces — including those killed while committing violent terror attacks.

Israel has long sought to clamp down on the practice, which it says encourages terror. As required by a 2018 law, Israel deducts the estimated cost of the stipends from tax revenues it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority every month.

Abu Bakr did not immediately provide a precise figure for 2020 as a whole but agreed when The Times of Israel suggested an estimate of NIS 600 million ($181 million) for the past year, based on the monthly number he’d provided. “Yes, that’s right,” he said.

An Israeli military order imposes sanctions on any banks that allow Palestinians to collect the payments. After several delays, the order came into effect early in 2021. In order to avoid the sanctions, the PLO paid the salaries of prisoners three months in advance in late December.

While the PLO has previously floated the idea of creating its own financial institution so as to avoid Israeli sanctions, the idea was eventually ruled out as unfeasible. Nor have any of the other reforms pitched to end the stipends — which, while popular domestically, have long won Ramallah international condemnation — yet come to fruition.

“We’re still studying the matter, but we have not yet come to any conclusions about it,” Abu Bakr said.

According to Abu Bakr, around 7,500 released Palestinian prisoners currently receive aid from the Palestine Liberation Organization. Another 4,500 prisoners who are still in detention also receive the salaries.

Palestinian Media Watch, a right-wing nonprofit that tracks incitement in Palestinian media, has previously estimated that the PLO paid out at least NIS 512 million ($159 million) in prisoner stipends in 2020.

While the PLO does not publish its budgets publicly, the nonprofit reached its conclusion by tracking financial documents put out by the PA. According to PA Finance Ministry filings, the amount the PA transferred to the PLO increased from NIS 161 million ($50 million) to NIS 673 million ($209 million) in 2020.

The Palestinian Authority Finance Ministry did not respond to repeated phone calls and a written request for comment.

Israeli politicians have described the stipends as a “pay-for-slay” program that rewards attackers. Because the PA hands out more money for longer sentences in Israeli prisons, those incarcerated for the most brutal terror attacks receive more funding from Ramallah.

Palestinians have argued that the stipends are recompense for what they deem an unfair Israeli military justice system. In addition to those who unabashedly support armed terror against Israelis, many do not believe the Israeli version of the events that led to their relatives’ imprisonment or death and take no issue with payouts to them or their families.

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