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Defense Minister Lieberman offers strong words but little action on Palestinian salaries to terrorists

The time has come to penalize the Palestinian Authority for its rewarding and incentivizing of terrorism.

Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas speaks in Bethlehem on Jan. 18, 2017. Credit: Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90.
Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas speaks in Bethlehem on Jan. 18, 2017. Credit: Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90.
Lt. Col. (res.) Maurice Hirsch
Lt. Col. (res.) Maurice Hirsch is the director of the Initiative for Palestinian Authority Accountability and Reform in the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs; a senior legal analyst for Human Rights Voices; and a member of the Israel Defense and Security Forum.

One of the pressing legislative issues that the Knesset will address in its summer session that opened on April 30 is penalizing the Palestinian Authority for its nefarious practice of paying salaries to terrorists and stipends to families of dead terrorists.  

The leading proponent of the first Israeli legislation on this subject, submitted in March 2017, was Knesset member Elazar Stern (Yesh Atid Party) who was joined by 11 other Knesset members from both the opposition and the coalition.

The underlying principle of the bill is simple. Every month, Israel collects and transfers taxes, predominantly import taxes, to the P.A. The taxes amount to 600 to 700 million shekels a month. Any sum that the P.A. expends to pay the salaries to terrorists and stipends to the families of dead terrorists will be permanently deducted from the taxes collected. According to the 2017 P.A. budget, these sums were in excess of 1 billion shekels.  

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Five months after the first hearing in the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, the representatives of Israel’s Minister of Defense, Avigdor Lieberman, updated the committee that the government is going to submit its own legislation on the subject.

To the dismay of the head of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Knesset member Avi Dichter (Likud Party), the Minister of Defense’s representatives refused to commit to a timeframe for its draft legislation.

In January this year, on the eve of an additional hearing in the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, the government published its first preliminary draft of the legislation that it intended to introduce on the subject. The guiding principle of the government’s bill was identical to Stern’s bill.

However, alongside the essential amendments that had to be made to Stern’s suggested law, the government added an extremely dangerous provision that would allow the cabinet to waive the deduction and transfer all funds to the P.A. for reasons of “national security or foreign relations.” In other words, after funds are deducted, and the Europeans shout “Gevult” or the Palestinians threaten a return to terrorism, the government will be pressured to transfer the deducted funds

Despite the harsh criticism of the committee regarding this addition, on March 12, the government published its final draft legislation, which still included the same provision.

The provision, which creates a clear revolving door, completely undermines both the fundamental principle of the legislation—financially penalizing the P.A. for incentivizing terrorism—and the supposedly tough approach of the defense minister himself on the subject.

When Palestinian Media Watch exposed, on March 28, that the P.A.’s 2018 annual budget had once again allocated hundreds on millions of shekels to the payment of the terror rewards, the defense minister was quick to tweetMahmoud Abbas the terror supporter has removed the mask and taken the gloves off. We will act for a quick decision on deducting the salary money that Mahmoud Abbas is transferring to terrorists and we will stop this absurdity.” 

Indeed, the time has come to penalize the P.A. for its rewarding and incentivizing of terrorism.

However, what is truly absurd, is that the person making the tough comments against the P.A. policy is the same person who, despite the criticism of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and others, is responsible for a provision that would invite external pressure and completely undermine the very same law that he is proposing.

Even given the questionable assumption that the new law should provide the government with some degree of discretion regarding the confiscation of the funds, complete and total discretion should not be given and certainly not based on amorphous “national security or foreign relations” considerations.

Quantitively, the discretion given to the government should be limited to transferring only a limited and defined portion of the funds confiscated. During a recent Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting, I suggested setting this limit at 50 percent.

Qualitatively, the discretion given to the Government should be conditional on receiving a signed commitment from the P.A. to abolish its policy within a short and limited time (no more than three months). In the absence of concrete steps by the P.A. within the prescribed amount of time to fulfill that commitment, the government would no longer have any discretion.

Since the introduction of Stern’s law, more than a year has passed. In that time, the P.A. has used at least part of the money Israel has transferred, to pay over a billion shekels in rewards for terrorism.

Now is the time for action, not just words. The P.A.’s more than 20-year practice of rewarding terror—funded in part by monies provided courtesy of the Israeli government—must end. As concerned parties have already promised, hearings should be held and the legislation should be finalized.

Lt. Col. (res) Maurice Hirsch is the Head of Legal Strategies at Palestinian Media Watch. He served for 19 years in the IDF Military Advocate General Corps. In his last position, he served as Director of the Military Prosecution in Judea and Samaria.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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