By TIMES OF ISRAEL STAFF—
The Palestinian Authority has paid out some NIS 4 billion — or $1.12 billion — over the past four years to terrorists and their families, a former director general of the Ministry of Strategic Affairs and ex-head of the army’s intelligence and research division told a top Knesset panel on Monday.
Setting out the figures, Brig.-Gen (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser told the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that the longer the period for which a Palestinian security prisoner is jailed, “the higher the salary… Anyone who has sat in prison for more than 30 years gets NIS 12,000 ($3,360) per month,” said Kuperwasser, according to the (Hebrew) NRG website. “When they’re released, they get a grant and are promised a job at the Palestinian Authority. They get a military rank that’s determined according to the number of years they’ve served in jail.”
Kuperwasser also told the committee that PA claims that the payments to terrorists’ families are social welfare benefits to the needy are false. The Palestinians’ own budgetary documents, he said, “clearly state that these are salaries and not welfare payments.”
Kuperwasser was briefing MKs days after US President Donald Trump visited Israel and held talks with PA President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem. In an apparent public upbraiding of Abbas over the payments, Trump told him at their joint press conference: “Peace can never take root in an environment where violence is tolerated, funded or rewarded.”
Israel’s Channel 2 TV reported on Sunday night that, behind closed doors in Bethlehem, Trump fumed at Abbas for lying to him. “You tricked me in DC! You talked there about your commitment to peace, but the Israelis showed me your involvement in incitement [against Israel],” Trump was said to have shouted at a shocked Abbas.
The TV report said the outburst was followed by several minutes of silence from the Palestinians, and that the meeting was very tense before the two sides managed to get back on track.
Palestinian sources denied the report, saying the meeting was good and to the point. And the Palestinian Ma’an news agency quoted a PA official on Monday accusing Israeli media of “lying” about what went on in the talks in order to torpedo a return to the negotiating table “because the Israelis don’t want to achieve peace.”
The Israel Hayom daily on Monday quoted an unnamed Palestinian official offering further details of the alleged stormy confrontation, however. This official said the talks “started on a positive note,” but the meeting “deteriorated after Trump accused Abbas of supporting incitement and terrorism with the salaries paid to prisoners.”
According to this report, “Trump made it clear to Abbas that he must curb anti-Israeli incitement in the Palestinian education system, saying Abbas cannot turn a blind eye to Palestinian incitement and pay stipends to terrorists’ families while simultaneously setting conditions that hinder any progress in the peace talks.”
Abbas reportedly responded that “in the past, there was a joint Palestinian-Israeli committee that sought to deal with incitement on both sides, but it has not met for years. As for the prisoners’ stipends, those are paid by the PLO’s prisoner authority, not the Palestinian government.”
At this point, according to the Israel Hayom report, “Trump lost his patience and interrupted Abbas, banging his fist on the table and admonishing him, saying, ‘You can talk about how much you want peace, but that’s empty [rhetoric].’”
At the Knesset meeting on Monday, Kuperwasser, today a project director at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs think tank, said that for many years the US and Israel had largely ignored the significance of the payments and that it only became a major issue in the last six months. Now the US Congress is pushing punitive legislation — the Taylor Force Act. The PA channels the payments indirectly, via a non-government “payment fund,” he said.
“There was a willingness to believe the lies that it was social support. In practice, no steps have been taken to change the situation and in the meantime, the Palestinians are trying to depict themselves as supporting peace while they are still paying the families of terrorists,” said Kuperwasser. “Assurance of a cash prize for acts of terror is encouragement to terrorism, and is against international law, international conventions, the Oslo accords, and other agreements that they have signed on.”
The committee’s chairman, Avi Dichter (Likud), said he would schedule a session with top-tier security and political officials to review what action Israel should take in response to what he said was continued Palestinian incitement to terror.
Dichter, a former director of the Shin Bet security service, declared: “The State of Israel cannot get involved in a political process aimed at peace when those who are supposed to be our partners incite [to terror]. For years, not only has it [incitement] not decreased, it has increased.”
Israel has long accused the Palestinians, including Abbas’s Fatah party, of fanning hatred on social media and calling for violence against Israelis.
According to PA law, Palestinian security prisoners serving time in Israeli jails and families of assailants killed while carrying attacks against Israelis are eligible to receive stipends and other benefits. According to the Middle East Media Research Institute, the allowances range from $364 (NIS 1,500) a month for a term of up to three years to $3,120 (NIS 13,000) for a term of 30 years and more. There is a monthly $78 supplement for terrorists from Jerusalem and a $130 supplement for Arab Israeli terrorists.
Dore Gold, a former Foreign Ministry director-general, said Israel’s opposition to terror payments had not been made sufficiently clear since he left his post in October 2016. “The idea that a body such as the Palestinian Authority pays money as compensation to families who lost their sons as they were engaged in terror is unacceptable and contradicts common sense. Former US secretary of state Colin Powell called it ‘providing an incentive to terrorism,’” he said.
Haim Jelin (Yesh Atid) criticized the government, saying, “There is a lack of willingness to to take steps against the Palestinian Authority. They’re frightened of an escalation or that the PA will collapse, or that it won’t look good to Muslim communities around the world.”
Moti Yogev (Jewish Home) claimed that Hitler and former Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein were being held up as role models in the Palestinian education system, and that “little girls in kindergarten declare that the Jews are worse than pigs, that they raped their mothers and murdered their fathers with axes.” Yogev called for economic and security-related sanctions to be imposed on the PA.
Along with criticism, Trump, at his press conference with Abbas, offered praise to the PA leader for being “committed to taking firm but necessary steps to fight terrorism and confront its hateful ideology.
On May 3 in Washington, at the first meeting between the two, Trump urged Abbas to stop incitement, crack down on terrorism, and “resolve” his government’s police of paying stipends to terrorists and their families.
Abbas, for his part, told Trump in their joint White House press conference that “we are raising our youth, our children, our grandchildren on a culture of peace.”
In the wake of that claim, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slammed Abbas for the remark, saying it was “unfortunately not true.” The PA, Netanyahu charged, “names their schools after mass murderers of Israelis and pay terrorists.”
A report released last month from the Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education (IMPACT-se) group found that PA textbooks for first to fourth grades were demonizing Israel and glorifying “martyrdom.” The document cited an “alarming deterioration” in content since the previous study.
The issue has taken on increasing significance of late, as members of Congress have threatened to decrease US aid to Palestinians if PA-sponsored incitement is not curbed.