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Israel’s law against ‘pay for slay’ is clearly putting pressure on the PA

So why are the country's prime minister, defense minister and finance minister mitigating the law’s impact?

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh. Source: Flickr.
Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh. Source: Flickr.
Lt. Col. (res) Maurice Hirsch
IDF Lt. Col. (res) Maurice Hirsch is director of Legal Strategies at Palestinian Media Watch.

If there were any remaining doubts regarding the efficacy of Israel’s anti-“Pay for Slay” law, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh removed them last week.

Official P.A. daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida quoted Shtayyeh on March 1 as saying: “The occupation is the primary cause of the financial crisis that we are facing, and the difficult situation that we are being subjected to is a result of Israel’s ongoing measures that steal our money [emphasis added].”

Shtayyeh’s statement preceded an announcement by the P.A. Finance Ministry that the P.A. would pay public service workers only 80% of their February salary.

The goal of the Israeli law, which was enacted by the large Knesset majority in 2018, is to penalize the PA for its payments to terrorists.

According to the law, at the end of each year, Israel’s defense minister submits a report to the Security Cabinet detailing P.A. payments made “in connection with terrorism”—i.e., PA payments to imprisoned terrorists, released terrorists, wounded terrorists and families of dead terrorists (so-called “martyrs”) during the previous year. After the approval of the report by the Security Cabinet, the amount specified by the defense minister is deducted from the tax money that Israel collects and transfers to the P.A. In 2021, the P.A.’s revenues from these taxes averaged 786 million shekels ($238 million) per month.

Since the enactment of the law, the Security Cabinet has approved the defense minister’s reports regarding P.A. payments to terrorists in 2018, 2019 and 2020. Pursuant to the reports, the Security Cabinet has ordered the deduction of 1,858,919,164 shekels ($562,538,495), of which 1,709,491,691 shekels ($517,319,366) has already been deducted, with the balance to be deducted over the next three months, in equal portions of 49,809,155 shekels ($15,073,042).

The P.A. prime minister’s words prove clearly and unambiguously that the law is achieving its goal—to create significant economic pressure on the P.A. in order to force the P.A. to stop its payments to terrorists. The P.A. is in the midst of a growing economic crisis and must reconsider its policy of rewarding terrorists.

(It is important to note that for the P.A., the imprisoned and released terrorists are, for all intents and purposes, “employees,” and therefore will also receive only 80% of their monthly payment for February.)

Israel’s anti-“Pay-for-Slay” law fits well with the U.S. Taylor Force Act, according to which the bulk of the U.S. administration’s assistance to the P.A. is conditional on the complete abolition of P.A. payments to terrorists.

Theoretically, Israel’s law could be achieving its goals even faster, had it not been for the improper intervention of certain factors.

For example, for reasons that are not clear, Israel’s prime ministers did not ensure that the defense minister’s reports were brought speedily for discussion in the Security Cabinet. Former Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu held up the discussion in the Security Cabinet of the 2019 report until November 2020. Current Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has similarly refrained, now for more than two months, from bringing the report regarding P.A. payments to terrorists in 2021 to a discussion in the Security Cabinet.

Although the P.A. has worked intensively and in various ways to hide its payments, Palestinian Media Watch estimates that in 2021 the P.A. paid terrorists more than 840 million shekels ($254 million).

Israeli Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman and Defense Minister Benny Gantz are also making it difficult to realize the law’s goal. In late August 2021, Gantz met with P.A. leader Mahmoud Abbas. At the meeting, it was agreed, among other things, that Israel would assist the P.A. and provide it with an additional 500 million shekels ($153.4 million). Gantz’s agreements with Abbas were implemented through the Finance Ministry.

Following the meeting, and following a response by the Finance Ministry to a request under Israel’s Freedom of Information Law, PMW exposed that in August and December 2021, the ministry illegally refrained from deducting funds totaling 150,418,877 shekels ($46.2 million), and in parallel, also transferred 349,581,123 shekels ($107.3 million) from the funds previously frozen. In this way, Israel credited the P.A. with the sum of 500 million shekels—exactly the amount Gantz had promised to transfer to the P.A.

In these ways, Israeli Prime Minister Bennett, Defense Minister Gantz and Finance Minister Lieberman are, unfortunately, reducing the impact of Israel’s anti-“Pay-for-Slay” Law and helping the P.A. to continue its payments, albeit reduced, to terrorists.

IDF Lt. Col. (res.) Maurice Hirsch is the director of Legal Strategies for 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.

This article was first published by Palestinian Media Watch.

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