According to official Palestinian reports, the actual expenditure by the Palestinian Authority on salaries to incarcerated terrorists during 2019 was 517.4 million shekels ($148 million). This is in comparison to 502 million shekels in 2018. The overall actual expenditures of the PA ministry for prisoners and released prisoners amounted to 619 million shekels in 2019 compared with 736.7 million shekels in 2018. In January 2020, the PA paid 77.1 million shekels as compared with 42.4 million shekels in January 2019, and 76 million shekels in December 2019.
The budget expenditure information is not clear about the salaries paid to the families of the martyrs, since they are included without specifications in the 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:
- The recently announced American peace plan, Vision for Peace and Prosperity, 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.
- The U.S. budget for FY 2020 – for the first time in many years – does not include any allocations for the PA, probably in line with the Taylor Force Act that prohibits the U.S. from extending aid to the PA as long as it keeps paying salaries to arrested terrorists and to the families of dead terrorists.
- 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 PA security forces to receive U.S. financial assistance without making the PA subject to legal procedures in U.S. courts for its support for terror. However, the legislation states clearly that the PA will have to pay compensation to victims of Palestinian terror as decided by U.S. courts as long as it keeps paying salaries to terrorists. At this point, the PA faces court decisions demanding that it pay more than $1 billion to terror victims.
- The Dutch government decided on November 2019 to cut aid to the PA after negotiations failed to convince the Palestinians to stop payment of salaries to terrorists. In 2018, Australia suspended its aid to the PA for similar reasons.
- In the British Parliament, the issue of British aid to the PA while it continues to pay salaries to terrorists has been raised, and the new government took upon itself to review the matter.
Israel keeps implementing the steps taken against the PA 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 PA and transfers to it, one-twelfth of the amount the PA 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 41.8 million shekels each month in 2019 (one-twelfth of the 502 million shekels paid by the PA as salaries to incarcerated terrorists in 2018), as these were the only figures the Ministry of Defense was able to provide. The cabinet ordered the MOD to provide further information about the payments to the families of dead terrorists, and towards the end of 2019 the MOD reported that these payments amounted to 148 million shekels, 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 deduction is implemented, but eventually reached an agreement with the Israeli government and resumed receiving the taxes. The details of the deal remain a secret. Nevertheless, even though more than two months have already elapsed in 2020, 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 PA asked Israel to deliver the withheld funds (650 million shekels, according to Palestinian sources). This request was refused, but instead, on March 22, Israel transferred to the PA 120 million shekels of arrears, whose status had been disputed. Clearly, if the PA lacks the financial resources to combat the epidemic, they can stop paying salaries to terrorists.
The law is implemented by the Ministry of Finance, but the preparation of the data and many additional activities are performed by the relatively new National Bureau of Counter-terror Financing at the Ministry of Defense. The bureau is headed by advocate Paul Landes, formerly the head of the Israel Money Laundering and Terror Financing Prohibition Authority at the Ministry of Justice. In addition to following the PA 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 350,000 shekels have 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:
- 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.
- The many warnings by certain Israelis and Americans, who prefer to ignore the mind-boggling phenomenon whereby the PA solicits Palestinians to kill Israelis by promising them handsome salaries and other benefits in advance, proved baseless. The PA did not collapse and did not stop its security cooperation with Israel. I predicted several times in the past that none of these threats are real, since the existence of the PA is the most important achievement of the Palestinian national movement and since security cooperation with Israel is much more beneficial to the PA due to its confrontation with its political opponent, Hamas, than it is for Israel.
The Israeli government has to abide by Israeli law and deduct the Palestinian payments of salaries to terrorists from the money transferred to the PA. The new Security Cabinet should affirm the amount spent by the PA in 2019 on salaries to terrorists and start deducting it immediately from the money transferred to the PA on a monthly basis.
More countries should follow the United States by conditioning their aid to the PA on abrogating the PA 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.