The Palestinian Authority has paid out some NIS 4 billion—or $1.12 billion—over the past four years to terrorists and the families of terrorists who were killed while carrying out terror attacks. Anyone who has sat in prison for more than 30 years gets NIS 12,000 ($3,360) per month, nearly 10 times the average salary the PA pays employees. The Palestinians’ own budgetary documents clearly state that these payments to the Terrorists are salaries and not welfare payments. When terrorists are released, they get a grant and are promised a job at the Palestinian Authority. They also receive a military rank that’s determined according to the number of years they’ve served in jail.
People say, “Okay, we know that they pay salaries to terrorists,” but we have not properly understood the scale or significance of this practice. The money that the Palestinian Authority pays to reward terrorists now amounts to seven percent of the PA’s approximately annual $4 billion dollar budget. Over 20 percent of the annual foreign financial aid that the PA receives is now dedicated to the salaries of imprisoned terrorists as well as to the salaries of prisoners who are released from prison. Released Palestinian terrorists continue to receive salaries for terrorism, as do the families of those who died in their “struggle against Zionism.” The total payment was roughly 1.5 billion shekels for fiscal year of 2016.
This is hardly a unique occurrence. Every year, the PA has released a similar sum, roughly over one billion shekels (approx. $320 million dollars) per year for the past four years. I’m only providing the past four years as an example, but if we went back further, we would see that the number has also been higher than one billion. Due to international pressure, the Palestinian Authority decided that it was unable to directly pay the money, and so from its budget, through a trick that satisfied many international entities, they transferred the money, not directly to a ministry responsible for payments to prisoners, but to the PLO so that the terrorists’ salaries could be formally paid through Palestinian National Fund, which was declared afterward by the Israeli Ministry of Defense to be a terror-supporting organization. But this money all comes from the Palestinian Authority’s own budget.
The PA’s official support of terror is a deliberate and official act of state: It occurs on the basis of PA laws that have been passed since 2004, and provide legal grounds for payments to incarcerated terrorists and the families of Terrorist killed carrying out terror attacks against Israel. These are explicit PA laws, which mandate payments to prisoners of war, or as they call them “al-asra”; a normal prisoner is “sijir” in Arabic. “Prisoners of war and released prisoners of war,” says the second clause of the law, “are an inseparable part from the fighting sector of Palestinian society.” On that basis, the PA has determines that Palestinian terrorists are entitled to “heroic treatment and recognition.”
Payments increases with increased punishment, which accompanies the severity of the terror attack. According to PA law, whoever is sentenced to more than 30 years in prison receives 12,000 shekels per month ($3,500). From the moment a terrorist is sentenced, he begins to receive his or her salary. By the way, these salaries are much higher than the average salary in the Palestinian Authority which is approximately $400 per month. They are excellent salaries in Palestinian terms.
When they are released, terrorists also receive a lump sum payment dependent upon the time for which they sat in prison, as well as guaranteed job, whether in the civilian sector or in the PA security forces—you can receive a rank as high as brigadier general. The higher your sentence, the higher the rank you receive. The vast majority of payments to the families of terrorists who were killed in the course of carrying out attacks are defined strictly as “salaries,” and not as social welfare payments.
Why is the Palestinian Authority prepared to clash with the international community on the issue of salaries and cash payments for terror? The reason is that the payments scheme is an essential part of the Palestinian rejectionist narrative, which promotes the idea that fighting Zionism is a central Palestinian national mission. The pillars supporting this narrative are:
— There’s no Jewish nation, only a religion. Therefore Jews are not entitled to a country in the Middle East in any borders. The Palestinians are a nation, the Jews are only a religion.
— Therefore, the Palestinians reject international documents such as the League of Nations mandate, which calls on the Jews to reconstitute their ancient homeland in Palestine.
— Only the Palestinians have the right to sovereignty, not the Jews. Palestinians are the only victims in the conflict.
— The Palestinians attribute their exclusive victim status to the “invasions” of the colonialist West as manifested in Israel’s establishment, and to Zionism, which, in their view, led to both the 1948 and 1967 “occupations” of what is today Israel and Judea and Samaria (the West Bank).
— In the Palestinian view, the presence of Jews in their own state constitutes an oppression of Palestinians that must be ended by any and all means. Therefore, the Palestinian struggle against Zionism is protracted and irreversible. Key elements of this struggle include political, cultural, and economic assault, terror, and incitement, and requires Palestinian steadfastness.
Delegitimization and incitement to terrorism are an explicit strategy by the Palestinian leadership to inculcate and strengthen these pillars in the consciousness of the Palestinian public.
Palestinian payments to terrorists and the families of terrorists who died carrying out terror attacks stand in complete contravention to all signed agreements in the Oslo Accords, and they stand in complete contravention to international law. The problem is that until now the international community and Israel have willfully overlooked the problem of the Palestinian Authority terror payments. There is a fear in Israel and abroad that if Israel or the West acted against these payments that the PA would collapse, resulting in even greater security chaos. In addition, the international community has excused these payments by defining them as social welfare payments to families, and not as to what they really are, rewards for terrorism, and incentives to commit future terror attacks.
Nothing operative has been done by the international community or Israel to stop these payments. Even after the recent reported dressing-down of Mahmoud Abbas by President Trump regarding incitement and the terror payments, no actions have been taken. There has been some discussion in Israel about passing legislation to cut tax rebates back to the Palestinian Authority if this Palestinian policy continues. In the U.S. the Taylor Force Act is currently being considered by Congress. But no laws have been changed to date. In the meantime, the Palestinians portray Israel as a country that refuses to make peace, while they finance and reward terrorists and their families.
These payments are an open scandal. Israel and the international community must condition any further financial assistance to the PA on the immediate cessation of this terror payments policy, whether by government decree or by legislation.
The above is a collated and lightly-edited translation of remarks delivered by the author before the Israeli Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on May 29, 2017.
Brigadier General (Reserve) Yosef Kuperwasser led the Research and Assessment Division of Israeli Military Intelligence. He is currently a Senior Project Director at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.