According to official Palestinian reports, the actual expenditure by the Palestinian Authority on salaries to incarcerated terrorists during 2019 was NIS 517.4 million ($148 million). This is in comparison to NIS 502 million ($140.8 million) in 2018.
The overall actual expenditures of the P.A. ministry for prisoners and released prisoners amounted to NIS 619 million ($173.6 million) in 2019 compared with NIS 736.7 million ($206.6 million) in 2018. In January 2020, the P.A. paid NIS 77.1 million ($21.6 million) as compared with NIS 42.4 million ($11.9 million) in January 2019, and NIS 76 million ($21.3 million) in December 2019.
These figures do not include salaries paid to the families of “martyrs,” which are included in general social welfare transfers, together with real welfare payments.
The Palestinians keep paying salaries to all terrorists arrested in Israel and to the families of dead terrorists in spite of the growing international attention to the “pay for slay” phenomenon that is evident from the following:
1. The recently announced U.S. peace plan, “Peace and Prosperity: A Vision to Improve the Lives of the Palestinian and Israeli People,” calls upon the Palestinians to stop paying salaries to terrorists and regards the ending of “pay for slay” as a precondition for establishing a Palestinian state. In the plan’s language:
“The PLO and the Palestinian Authority should take all necessary actions to immediately terminate the paying of salaries to terrorists serving sentences in Israeli prisons, as well as to the families of deceased terrorists (collectively, the “Prisoner and Martyr Payments”) and to develop humanitarian and welfare programs to provide essential services and support to Palestinians in need that are not based upon the commission of terrorist acts. The goal is to change the applicable laws, in a manner that is consistent with the laws of the United States, and completely cease making Prisoner and Martyr Payments by the time of signing of the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Agreement.”
2. The U.S. budget for FY 2020—for the first time in many years—does not include any allocations for the P.A., probably in line with the Taylor Force Act that prohibits the United States from extending aid to the P.A. as long as it keeps paying salaries to arrested terrorists and to the families of dead terrorists.
3. The new version of the Further Consolidated Appropriations Act for FY 2020 (HR 1865) was meant to mitigate the implications of the Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act of 2019, to enable the P.A. security forces to receive U.S. financial assistance without making the P.A. subject to legal procedures in U.S. courts for its support for terrorism. However, the legislation states clearly that the P.A. will have to pay compensation to victims of Palestinian terrorism as decided by U.S. courts as long as it keeps paying salaries to terrorists. The P.A. faces court decisions demanding that it pay more than $1 billion to terrorism victims.
4. The Dutch government decided in November 2019 to cut aid to the P.A. after negotiations failed to convince the Palestinians to stop payment of salaries to terrorists. In 2018, Australia suspended its aid to the P.A. for similar reasons.
5. In the British Parliament, the issue of British aid to the P.A. while it continues to pay salaries to terrorists has been raised, and the new government took upon itself to review the matter.
Israel continues to implement the steps taken against the P.A. in the context of the Stern-Dichter law that was adopted in 2018. The law ordered Israel to deduct every month from the taxes it collects for the P.A. one-twelfth of the amount the P.A. paid as salaries to arrested terrorists and to families of dead terrorists in the previous year. After the law came into force, Israel’s Security Cabinet decided in February 2019 to deduct NIS 41.8 million ($11.7 million) each month in 2019 (one-twelfth of the NIS 502 million paid by the P.A. as salaries to incarcerated terrorists in 2018), as these were the only figures the Israeli Defense Ministry provided.
The cabinet ordered the ministry to provide further information about the payments to the families of dead terrorists, and towards the end of 2019 the ministry reported that these payments amounted to NIS 148 million ($41.5 million), and one-twelfth of this sum has to be deducted as well.
The Palestinians protested the decision and refused to accept any payment as long as the deductions were being implemented, but eventually reached an agreement with the Israeli government and resumed receiving the taxes. The details of the deal remain secret. Nevertheless, even though more than two months of 2020 have already elapsed, the Israeli Cabinet has not yet held a discussion about the implementation of the deduction law in 2020, which may mean that no deduction took place in January and February.
Following the outbreak of the coronavirus, the P.A. asked Israel to deliver the withheld funds (NIS 650 million or $182.3 million, according to Palestinian sources). This request was refused, but instead, on March 22, Israel transferred to the P.A. NIS 120 million ($33.7 million) of arrears, whose status had been disputed.
Clearly, if the P.A. lacks the financial resources to combat the epidemic, they can simply stop paying salaries to terrorists.
The law is implemented by the Finance Ministry, but the preparation of the data and many additional activities are performed by the relatively new National Bureau of Counter-terror Financing at the Defense Ministry. The bureau is headed by advocate Paul Landes, formerly the head of the Israel Money Laundering and Terror Financing Prohibition Authority at the Justice Ministry. In addition to following the P.A. payment of salaries to terrorists, the bureau issues decrees authorizing the confiscation of the money paid as salaries through the banking system to Israeli citizens and Jerusalem residents. So far, about NIS 350,000 ($98,161) has been confiscated from accounts or from funds prisoners received in prison.
Some lessons can be learned from the 2019 experience with payments to Palestinian terrorists:
1. The Palestinian Authority still insists on paying the salaries in line with its law and narrative that consider the terrorists as heroes and the fighting sector of Palestinian society.
2. The many warnings by certain Israelis and Americans, who prefer to ignore the mind-boggling phenomenon whereby the P.A. solicits Palestinians to kill Israelis by promising them handsome salaries and other benefits in advance, against withholding the P.A. tax revenues, proved baseless. The P.A. did not collapse and did not stop its security cooperation with Israel. I predicted several times in the past that none of the threats were real, since the existence of the P.A. is the most important achievement of the Palestinian national movement and since security cooperation with Israel is much more beneficial to the P.A. due to its confrontation with its political opponent, Hamas, than it is for Israel.
The Israeli government must abide by Israeli law and deduct the Palestinian payments of salaries to terrorists from the money transferred to the P.A. The new Security Cabinet should affirm the amount spent by the P.A. in 2019 on salaries to terrorists and start deducting it immediately from the money transferred to the P.A. on a monthly basis.
More countries should follow the United States by conditioning their aid to the P.A. on the abrogation of the P.A. law according to which these payments are made and stopping the practice of “pay for slay.” If European donors adopt this policy, the chances increase that something will change.
IDF Brig. Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser is director of the Project on Regional Middle East Developments at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He formerly served as director general of the Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs and head of the research division of IDF Military Intelligence.
This article was first published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.