Will the Palestinian Authority Abandon ‘Pay-For-Slay’?

Likely not, but there will be consequences.

The Palestinian Authority provides generous monthly stipends to imprisoned terrorists and to the families of terrorists who were killed while committing their attacks. The more serious the offense, and the longer the prison term, the greater the stipend. The families of the dead “martyrs” receive the most. The effect of this policy is to reward past, and incentivize future, terrorism.

Congress passed the Taylor Force Act in 2018, which forbids giving any aid to the PA as long as this “Pay-For-Slay” program continues. The Bidenites have violated the act with impunity, having transferred hundreds of millions of dollars to the PA even though it continues its “Pay-For-Slay”program. How they have been allowed to get away with this? Where is the outcry from Congress? From the public? It’s a puzzlement.

Mahmoud Abbas has repeatedly rejected the suggestion that he would ever succumb to pressure and end “Pay-For-Slay.” He melodramatically promised to fund the program, unchanged, down to “my last penny.” But now it seems he’s decided after all to stand down from his previous position, and instead to change the method of payment which will depend not on the severity of the recipient’s sentence, but on the financial need of a prisoner’s, or a deceased terrorist’s, family.

A report on this likely change to the PA’s “Pay-or-Slay” program is here: “Palestinian Authority likely to abolish pay-for-slay, Frej says,” by Tovah Lazaroff, Jerusalem Post, November 17, 2021:

The Palestinian Authority is likely to abolish its policy of providing monthly stipends to jailed terrorists and the families of terrorists who have killed Israelis, Regional Cooperation Minister Esawi Frej told Israel Radio on Wednesday morning.

“I believe that in the coming months this [PA] policy will change,” Frej said, adding that a different mechanism would be created that would be acceptable to everyone. It was an allusion to past proposals to sway the PA to change its method of payment, which now provides the largest financial reward for those who have committed the most serious terror attack and the least reward for those only marginally involved in terror.

The international community would prefer a social welfare system for Palestinians jailed by Israel that provided equitable payments based solely on financial needs….

The “dire financial crisis” of the PA is a result of several factors. 

First, the EU donors have been most unhappy with the continued use by the PA of antisemitic schoolbooks that it has repeatedly promised to fix or replace, but has done neither. As a consequence, since the beginning of the year the EU has held back on contributions to the PA, claiming “technical difficulties.”

Secondly, the colossal corruption in the PA continues without abating; Mahmoud Abbas and his two sons Tarek and Yasser have by now accumulated a family fortune of between $400 and $600 million. In addition, several hundred Abbas loyalists, their relatives and friends, have received PA government sinecures that pay up to ten times the ordinary Palestinian wage, another drain on the PA’s finances. This theft of aid money has enraged many donors, including those in Europe and the Arab states in the Gulf.

Third, the rich Sunni states of the Gulf have been suffering compassion fatigue; they are tired of being seen by the PA as a bottomless funder of the Palestinians, and angry, too, about the PA’s refusal to negotiate with Israel. The Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told Mahmoud Abbas in 2018 to “accept whatever deal the Americans offer.” Abbas ignored that advice. As a consequence, Saudi aid to the PA has decreased from $174.7 million in 2019 to only $32.5 million in 2020. Though figures for 2021 have not been released, everyone assumes there will have been another decrease in Saudi aid since 2020 – perhaps all the way to zero. The United Arab Emirates and Kuwait have also cut their aid to the PA. All of this leaves the PA finances in a parlous state.

Among the issues highlighted by the World Bank, is an 85% drop in donor funding over the last 13 years, from $1.2 billion in 2008 to $184 million this year.

Both reports spoke against Israel’s policy of penalizing the PA for the terror payments, which Israel has dubbed, “pay-for-slay.”

Israel withholds that sum, some NIS 50 million a month, from its transfer to Ramallah of the tax fees it collects on behalf of the PA. In August Israel increased the sums it withholds to NIS 100 million monthly. But in light of the PA’s financial distress, Israel in the fall provided the PA with a NIS 500 million loan to offset the money it had withheld.

Israel will still continue to withhold from the taxes it collects for the PA, by the exact amount that the PA transfers to imprisoned terrorists and the families of dead terrorists. But at the same time, Israel has this fall provided the PA with a 500 million shekel ($155 million dollars) loan, hoping to stave off the financial collapse of the PA

In Oslo, Frej plans to ask donor countries that attend the AHLC to restore funding to the PA. On Wednesday morning Israel radio quizzed him about the discrepancy in Israel’s policy, which both penalizes the PA for pay-for-slay but helps it attain financial stability.

Here we have an Israeli official imploring donors to restore funding to the PA. This is based on the notion that the PA may be bad, but Hamas would be worse. And the support to the PA should allow it to provide more funding to improve the lives of ordinary Palestinians. That, anyway, is the assumption. But will this be the result? What if most of the donor money is siphoned off, as so much has been in the past, to line the pockets of Abbas, his relatives and friends, and to provide well-paid sinecures in the government, paying ten times the average salary to his loyalists and their relatives and friends? Won’t this spectacle of still more funds being diverted to Abbas & Co. further enrage ordinary Palestinians, who would feel better if all of the Palestinians, the leaders and not just their subjects, shared equally in the financial meltdown and consequent immiseration?

Frej added that he believed the situation would change. “I see there is a desire among the Palestinians to change this situation,” Frej said, adding that the US is working on this issue as well. “They [the US] are also not releasing money because of this,” he said.

Actually Essawi Frej is wrong. The American government, to its everlasting shame, has been releasing money to the PA despite the Taylor Force Act. But while the Bidenites have run roughshod over Taylor Force, they would prefer to have the Palestinians come up with a different way to provide financial aid to terrorists and their families. And they have done so.

UNSCO in its report to the AHLC also said that the “PA is weighing options for resolving the so-called ‘prisoners payments’ issue.”

It explained that these payments “greatly complicate Palestinian relations with Israel and key donors. International technical assistance could help the PA instead strengthen its existing cash transfer program that targets the most vulnerable Palestinian households.”

On Monday PA Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh told his cabinet that he had no intention of backing down on this issue, adding that he would press donor countries to pressure Israel to halt its tax deductions.

The Palestinian Prime Minister does not sound like he plans to abandon or refashion the “Pay-For-Slay” plan, and wants donors to pressure Israel to end its policy of withholding from the tax duties it collects for the PA and then hands over to it, the precise amounts the PA pays out to Palestinian terrorists and their families under the “Pay-For-Slay” program.

Israel and the PA appear to have been able to ignore the latest Gaza War between Hamas and Israel, and their representatives have been meeting to discuss ways to ameliorate the PA’s financial situation.

The ongoing contact between the parties has created a new, more positive dynamic. The parties are seeking to revitalize their cooperation, particularly cooperation relating to the economy and trade.

This is crucial in order to strengthen the Palestinian economy, meet basic needs, especially in Gaza, and reduce the risk of further escalations of violence,’ Huitfeldt said.

“The economy in Palestine has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. Poverty and unemployment are on the rise. The escalation of violence between Israel and Palestinian armed groups in Gaza in May brought further suffering to the civilian population,” Huitfeldt said….

Neither the poverty nor unemployment in. Gaza are Israel’s fault. Mismanagement and corruption explain the situation. The corruption has been colossal: just two Hamas leaders, Mousa ibn Marzouk and Khaled Meshaal, have each stolen at least $2.5 billion, with some Arabs suggesting that Khaled Meshaal’s take has been $5 billion. Another 600 Hamas millionaires – who collectively are worth several billion dollars — live in the Strip. Such extremes of wealth, and the knowledge that the wealth consists of aid money meant for everyone, has put ordinary Palestinians in a rage.

Let’s suppose the PA starts to give out money not just to those convicted of terrorism, nor to families of prisoners who died during their terrorist attacks, but instead to all prisoners, the size of their stipends based on financial need rather than the nature of their deed. Though this is presented as getting away from the “Pay-For-Slay” program, those prisoners who have the greatest financial need will be those who are put away for the longest time, and unable to work to support their families -– that is, terrorists and, of course, those families deprived of a breadwinner because he was killed in performing a terrorist attack will also be in the greatest need. By a different route — with financial need as the sole criterion for the size of a stipend, the PA will still end up roughly with the same result, with imprisoned terrorists and the families of dead terrorists getting the largest stipends.

The PA will not be happy. It had hoped to recharacterize the payments it made to imprisoned terrorists as payments to the incarcerated based on financial need, and it assumed that that would be the end of any complaints. But the Palestinian prisoners most in financial need are those who are imprisoned the longest, who cannot earn money for themselves or their families during that time, and that means the terrorists. In other words, though the criteria for payment appear to be different, the prisoners who are given the most under “Pay-For-Slay” are almost identical to those who are given the most when financial need alone is being considered.

And there is something else that needs to be discussed by the donor states, and that ought to be factored into their decision on whether to renew aid to the PA. The “rewards” to Palestinian terrorists are much more than financial. Terrorists – alive and dead — are honored and held up as role models. Schools, streets, parks, city squares, and sports teams are named after them. Their terrorist acts are depicted as brave acts of derring-do, especially on children’s shows on Palestinian television. Stories are written about them. Video re-enactments of their lives and deaths are produced. Dalia Al-Mughrabi, Ahlam Al-Tamimi, Leila Khaled, Marwan Barghouti, Samir Kuntar, and many other mass murderers of Israeli men, women, and children, are held up as figures to emulate.

The donor countries – with the U.S. in the lead — should insist that the PA cease to glorify Palestinian terrorists, living or dead. No more television programs about them, no stories or books written to tell their tale to inspire others to go and do likewise. No naming of schools, streets, squares, and sports teams after them. Those schools, streets, etc. that have already been named after terrorists should have their names changed. All that honoring and glorifying of terrorists has the same effect as the “Pay-For-Slay” stipends: it rewards past, and incentivizes future, terrorist acts.

Will the PA conceivably agree to this demand? If it does, it will be seen by many Arabs as betraying its role as paladin of the Palestinian cause. And if it doesn’t, it could be dealt quite a blow to its bank account. Hard to say which road Mahmoud Abbas will choose.

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