(February 11, 2019 / JNS) They say it takes a village, but unfortunately, it took one woman, Ori Ansbacher, and her murder by a Palestinian terrorist for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to announce, after much public pressure, that he would begin deducting funds to the Palestinian Authority over its payments to terrorists and their families.
“By the end of the week,” Netanyahu said at the outset of Sunday’s cabinet meeting, “the staff work necessary for implementing the law on deducting terrorists’ salaries will be completed. Next Sunday, I will convene the Security Cabinet, and we will approve the necessary decision to deduct the funds. Let nobody doubt it, the funds will be deducted starting next week,” he said.
Israeli lawmakers passed a landmark law last summer that would seek to punish the P.A. for its “pay to slay” policy that rewards terrorists and their families by deducting funds from Palestinian tax revenue.
While Netanyahu has promised to finally take action, not everyone is convinced. Many wonder why the government has delayed implementing the law in the first place.
Yossi Kuperwasser, an Israeli intelligence and security expert now working at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, told JNS that “the government has to respect the law, and I’m convinced it is going to do it. If it does not, it is going to send a message that it in fact supports the strange situation that prevails in the last 15 years, [whereby] Israel collects money for the P.A. so that the P.A. will be able to give generous salaries to [those] who harm Israelis. This has to stop.”
Fed up with the P.A.’s policy of paying terrorists and their families for attacks against Israelis, Israel’s parliament last July voted overwhelmingly in favor of the law by a tally of 87-15. The law also requires the Ministry of Defense to submit a report to the security cabinet detailing the amounts of money that the P.A. spent the previous year incentivizing terrorism and then, once approved, the figure is to be deducted from the tax money. The report must be approved by the defense minister—in this case, Netanyahu.
So the question remains: It is now February, the law has yet to be implemented, and the P.A. will continue to use this money to incite terrorism. Why hasn’t the law gone through?
‘The elections make no difference’
Sander Gerber, CEO of Hudson Bay Capital Management and a driving force behind the effort to expose the P.A.’s effort to fund terrorism, told JNS, “The Jan. 31 deadline for the law was missed purposefully,” he said. “This is driven by the continual efforts of select members of the military establishment, in particular COGAT, to allow the P.A. freedom to operate without limits. The Knesset overwhelmingly determined that P.A. bureaucracies of hundreds of civil servants distributing billions of shekels to terrorists, by law, is a red line. Netanyahu is caught in the middle and using administrative reasons to delay implementation.”
Is the fact that Israel is in the midst of yet another election cycle the cause for delay in the law’s enactment? According to its sponsors, there is no reason for the law to be ignored.
Elazar Stern, co-sponsor of the law and a member of Knesset in the Yesh Atid Party, told JNS “the elections should not affect the implementation of the law. The Ministry of Defense should implement it as usual.”
Avi Dichter, chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee in Israel’s parliament and a co-sponsor of the law, agreed with Stern, saying the law should go into effect. He noted to JNS that “the law passed through three readings in the Knesset. Whether or not we are in the midst of elections makes no difference.”
Itamar Marcus, director of Palestinian Media Watch, went further, explaining to JNS why he believes the elections should act as a guarantee for implementation.
“With Netanyahu as Minister of Defense, he does not want Lieberman raising the issue … leading into elections that Netanyahu is transferring money to the P.A. for terrorists in violation of Israeli law,” Marcus said. “Lieberman will be looking for any way to attack Netanyahu from the right, and Netanyahu would be a fool to enable him on this issue. I expect implementation, even if the start is delayed by the paperwork in the Ministry of Defense initially.”
The Israeli law closely resembles the Taylor Force Act, a legislative bill passed by Congress last March that requires the United States to withhold funds from the P.A. until it stops funding terrorists and their families.
Another U.S. law that would cut aid to Palestinian security forces went into effect recently. The U.S. Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act (ATCA), passed last year by Congress provides that any government receiving funding is subject to U.S. counterterrorism laws. To avoid being hit with lawsuits, the P. A. has asked the U.S. to end its funding of the P.A. security forces. The reason, according to the Palestinians, is because they do not want to be vulnerable to Americans who wish to sue over complicity in “acts of war” as the law prohibits of those who receive foreign aid from the U.S.
Senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat said, “We do not want to receive any money if it will cause us to appear before the courts.”
The Palestinians are right to be fearful; their complicity in what can be deemed “acts of war” is blatant.
According to Stern in an article he wrote last year, the 2018 P.A. budget, approved by Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, “allocated around $360 million—approximately 7 percent of the budget—to two institutions that reward convicted terrorists imprisoned in Israel, released terrorists and families of terrorists.” He also emphasized that “while the deduction of funds is not in line with the terms of the 1994 Paris Protocol between Israel and the Palestinians, the payments to terrorists constitute a gross violation of it.”
Maurice Hirsch, head of legal strategies for Palestinian Media Watch, told JNS, “Of course, the law must be acted upon. … There is no reason to believe that now, in a period of wide-scale terrorism and elections that the prime minister will choose not to implement the law. That would almost be political suicide.
“As long as Israel collects and transfers the money, Israel is funding the P.A.’s program to award terrorists to murder Israelis,” he continued. “I’d like to believe that the prime minister will respect the law. Any deviance from that path should be heavily criticized.”
‘A missed opportunity’
Others are frustrated as well.
Education Minister and head of The New Right Party Naftali Bennett demanded action. He insisted that Netanyahu implement the law immediately and that he would “commit to backing the prime minister in the Security Cabinet and working to get a majority for the vote on this matter, in the face of all international pressure.”
Knesset member Oded Forer of the Israel Beitenu Party insisted that “in light of the passage of the Law for the Offsetting of Terrorist Funds, [it] must be implemented immediately …”
According to Gerber, “this law represents Israel’s first attempt to dismantle the P.A.’s infrastructure for paying terrorists. It is a new battlefield—budget cuts, not bombs. Hopefully, it will cause the P.A. to redirect $350 million to build a civil society, and if not, will alert the world that the P.A. is currently actively funding terror.”
Now that it is February, Hirsch questioned why the government has waited so long to implement the law, let alone even approve a report on the matter. “Are they plainly dragging their feet? It’s really not clear.” No matter the reason, Hirsch lamented, “there is a lot of work to be done, which should have been done already.”