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Lawmakers back tougher version of terrorist wages bill

The Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee approves the final draft of the bill after divisions emerge between defense, education ministers and the Israeli prime minister over the pliability of deduction of terrorists’ wages from Palestinian Authority taxes.

Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas (second from left) waves with Palestinian prisoners released from Israeli jails during celebrations in Ramallah, Oct. 30, 2013. Photo by Issam Rimawi/Flash90.
Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas (second from left) waves with Palestinian prisoners released from Israeli jails during celebrations in Ramallah, Oct. 30, 2013. Photo by Issam Rimawi/Flash90.

The Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on ‎Wednesday approved the final draft of the so-called “terrorist wages” bill, which seeks to deduct the ‎payments that the Palestinian Authority makes to terrorists ‎and their families from the tax funds collected by ‎Israel for the P.A.‎

The move followed divisions that had emerged between ‎senior ministers and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ‎over the wording of ‎the legislation proposal, which will be presented to ‎the Knesset plenum next week from its second and ‎third readings.‎

Under the 1993 Oslo Accords, a mechanism was set up ‎for Israel to collect taxes—value-added tax and ‎customs fees—on behalf of the P.A. and transfer the money to it.‎

Those funds amount to about $100 million a month, ‎and the P.A. uses a considerable portion of them to ‎finance the stipends it pays to terrorists and their ‎families. In 2017, it spent NIS 1.23 billion ‎ ($358 million), or 7 percent of its total budget ‎for the year, on those stipends.‎

Officials in the National Security Council in the ‎Prime Minister’s Office convened a lengthy meeting ‎on the wording of the bill on Tuesday after ‎a disputed emerged between Defense Minister ‎Avigdor Lieberman and Education Minister Naftali ‎Bennett on one side, and ‎Netanyahu and the National Security Council on the ‎other.‎

The ministers said they would oppose changing the ‎draft approved by the Knesset Foreign Affairs and ‎Defense Committee two weeks ago, against the ‎government’s position.‎

The committee debated two versions of the bill: the ‎first, which had been approved, stating that once ‎the deduction of Palestinian funds is enacted the ‎political echelon would be unable to rescind the ‎measure, and the second saying that the only ‎circumstance under which the cabinet would be able ‎to return deducted funds is if the defense minister ‎confirms that the P.A. has stopped paying terrorist ‎salaries for an entire year.‎

Netanyahu and the National ‎‎Security Council supported the softer version of the ‎bill, while Lieberman and Bennett supported the ‎stricter version. ‎

Wednesday’s vote backed the more harshly worded draft, rendering such deductions immutable.‎

The terrorist wages bill was sponsored by Knesset members Elazar ‎‎Stern (Yesh Atid), Robert Ilatov (Yisrael Beytenu) ‎‎and Avi Dichter (Likud).‎

‎“Insisting on principles paid off. The original ‎draft of the bill was approved. The Palestinian ‎Authority has to be made to understand that ‎supporting terrorist does not pay,” said Stern.‎

Dichter, who heads the Foreign Affairs and Defense ‎Committee, said, “This is a moral law that sends a ‎clear message to us, to the Palestinian Authority ‎and to the world. Israel will not be a conduit by ‎which terrorist is funded. That’s over.” ‎

Israel Hayom learned that intensive behind-the-scenes talks were held on the matter in the wake of ‎Lieberman’s and Bennett’s objections until the prime ‎minister and NSC officials agreed to accept the ‎already-approved draft.‎

‎’End the absurdity’

The current version of the bill stipulates that the ‎finance minister would deduct the P.A.’s permanent ‎monthly stipend for terrorists and their families ‎from the taxes Israel collects on the P.A.’s behalf. ‎According to this version of the bill, adopted by ‎the committee unanimously, once the finance minister ‎makes the decision, the deduction would be ‎irreversible.‎

This clause, which curtails the government’s ability ‎to roll back the deduction under appropriate ‎circumstances, has been the main point of contention ‎between Bennett and Lieberman, and the government.‎

The NSC’s position favors the softer version of the ‎bill, allowing the prime minister and defense ‎minister to use their discretion on the matter, but ‎to a large extent, this leaves the bill hollow.‎

On Tuesday afternoon, Lieberman came out in ‎opposition to the government’s official stance, ‎saying he would support the version Ilatov co-wrote. ‎Ilatov told Israel Hayom that he wants the ‎bill to remain untouched and would vote against a ‎revised version.‎

Bennett, chairman of the Habayit Hayehudi Party, ‎also came out against the second version of the ‎bill.‎

‎“The Palestinian Authority transfers over a billion ‎shekel a year to terrorists who murdered Israeli ‎civilians and to the families of terrorists who were ‎killed. This absurdity has to stop, which is ‎precisely what the bill calls for, but at the last ‎moment a clause was ‘innocently’ inserted to ‎prohibit us from automatically deducting every ‎shekel the P.A. transfers for terror purposes,” he ‎said.‎

Consequently, Bennett announced that Habayit ‎Hayehudi MKs on the Foreign Affairs and Defense ‎Committee would vote against the revision.‎Stern told Israel Hayom that “the Palestinians and ‎the world need to know that we won’t transfer money ‎to terror. If they stop paying terrorists and their ‎families, no one will oppose them receiving the ‎money.”‎

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