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May 3, 2018 4:25 pm

Will Israel Pass a Law to Offset ‘Pay-to-Slay’ Stipends to Jailed Palestinian Terrorists?

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The Israeli Knesset building. Photo: Wikimedia Commons. – Knesset members are currently advancing competing laws to serve as the equivalent to America’s Taylor Force Act, which sanctions the Palestinian Authority (PA)’s “pay-to-slay” policy of providing terrorists and their families with official stipends for the murder of Jews.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has praised America’s passing of the act, named after 28-year-old US military veteran Taylor Force, who –following tours in Iraq and Afghanistan — was killed in a Tel Aviv terror attack in March 2016.

Yet Israel continues to transfer approximately NIS 600 million ($170 million) per month to the PA —  without any sanctions — as part of a tax-collection arrangement brokered during the signing of the 1993 Oslo Accords. Under this agreement, Israel collects and transfers import duties at Israeli ports on behalf of the PA.

Each year, Israel transfers NIS 8.5 billion (more than $2.4 billion) in tax payments. The PA budget this year is NIS 18.5 billion ($5.2 billion).

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Israel’s monthly tax transfers take place on schedule, despite the fact that Israel has known since as early as 2011 that as much as 10 percent of these funds are directed to the official Palestinian Prisoners’ Fund and Martyrs’ Fund. This fund provides hefty salaries and pensions to terrorists incarcerated in Israeli jails — and to the families of terrorists who were murdered while committing acts of terror.

The first bill to offset payments to the PA was drafted by Maj. Gen. (res.) Elazar Stern of the Yesh Atid Party, part of the opposition in the Knesset, and has already advanced through the first of three required readings before it can be passed into law.

“I initiated the bill to prevent the absurd situation in which terrorists with blood on their hands receive proper salaries from the Palestinian Authority during their trial and while in prison,” said Stern. “This behavior of the Palestinian Authority encourages others to carry out acts of terror, and this must be stopped.

“I urge the government to expedite the process of promoting the law. I intend to raise it for second and third readings in the Knesset plenum in the coming weeks,” Stern told JNS.

A second government-sponsored bill is being promoted by Israel’s Defense Ministry, led by Minister Avigdor Lieberman of the Yisrael Beiteinu Party.

While America was able to pass its version of the bill as part of an omnibus spending bill, the Israeli bills to offset terror payments have stalled for months, highlighting key differences between the US foreign-aid payments and Israeli tax-revenue transfers.

Members of Israel’s governing establishment worry that withholding payments to the PA could represent an abrogation of the Jewish state’s responsibilities under the now infamous Oslo Accords, which can cause a public-relations challenge for Israel, particularly in Europe and at the United Nations.

Furthermore, because the sums that the PA transfers to terrorists and their families are so large, offsetting them from tax-revenue transfers is likely to cause a major fiscal crisis within the PA. Such a crisis could further threaten the stability of an already fragile and corrupt Palestinian regime. Many within the Israel establishment are worried that a fiscal shortage could result in the actual collapse of the PA, an eventuality that many Israeli officials would like to delay as long as possible.

According to Harold Rhode, a former adviser on Middle Eastern affairs at the US Department of Defense, the Israeli establishment is faced with a difficult choice: crack down on the PA, regardless of the risk of collapse; or continue to support it, regardless of its unending campaign of antisemitic rhetoric and outright violence.

“Israelis are invariably more comfortable with the ‘devil they know’ than the ‘devil they don’t know,’ ” Rhode told JNS.

While the Palestinian policy of providing significant ongoing and sometimes lifelong stipends to terrorists and their families has been known for years, it is only in the past several months that the sheer amounts — nearly 10 percent of the PA’s total budget — and the sophisticated scale of payments have been revealed and publicized.

Some of the work to uncover the advanced payment schemes and to inform government officials in Israel, the United States, and in the European Union has been organized and researched by Palestinian Media Watch (PMW), under the leadership of founder Itamar Marcus, and director of legal initiatives Lt.-Col. (ret.) Maurice Hirsch, former head of military prosecution for Judea and Samaria. While in that position, Hirsch he tried countless criminal and civil cases against terrorists and the PA.

PMW has researched and verified line items in the PA budgets, and identified the terrorists and families that receive payments, even linking each terrorist to their victims, and tracking the amount that each killer or family has received for their acts of murder.

“The goal is not to collapse the PA; the goal is to hold them responsible and cause them to stop paying salaries to terrorists and the families of dead terrorists,” Hirsch told JNS.

Hirsch is working to strengthen both Stern’s proposed law, as well as the government’s version of the bill, acknowledging that both had significant flaws in their initial formulations — including loopholes that could empower the Israeli government to simply “withhold” the tax payments “as opposed to confiscating them,” which ensures that the money will not be handed over later to the PA in the case of international pressure.

Hirsch prefers that confiscated funds be transferred to the families of terror victims instead of to the terrorists.

“We don’t care which version of the law gets passed,” Hirsch said, noting that within the government and the opposition, there appears to be “a genuine commitment to see a law passed in this current parliamentary session –before the summer recess on July 22.”

In between Knesset sessions, PMW sent extensive comments regarding the proposed laws to the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, as well as to Stern. Both groups have been actively working to improve the laws based upon the recommendations.

“During the recess, what we tried to stress was that every single day that passes while there is no law, the Palestinian Authority pays more than 3.3 million shekels [nearly $1 million] in salaries to terrorists,” said Hirsch. “So if the Knesset was on break for 40 days, that is more than 133 million shekels [$38 million] transferred by Israel to the Palestinian Authority and then paid to terrorists just in the period of the recess.”

Meanwhile, the US foreign-aid sanctions legislated by the Taylor Force Act could commence in the coming weeks. The bill gave the Palestinians 30 days to comply with the restrictions, and demonstrate that it has ceased “pay-to-slay” payments. In direct defiance of the Taylor Force passage, the PA recently released its current budget figures. The Palestinian Prisoners’ Fund and Martyrs’ Fund budgets were notably still on the books.

Palestinian Media Watch will soon release a new report further detailing the ongoing scope of payments, and delivering the report to Trump administration officials and relevant members of Congress.

“A week after the opening of the American Embassy in Jerusalem” — which is scheduled for May 14, the 70th anniversary of the declaration of the State of Israel on the secular calendar,“ — there can be an announcement by the United States to the Palestinian Authority, saying that you are not getting any more money,” said Hirsch.

But it’s unclear if the Trump administration will allow the law to move forward.

Hirsch is hopeful that Israel — which he says should have been leading the charge to sanction the PA — will follow America’s lead and stop providing such funding.

In the upcoming session, it will become clearer whether the government intends to pass the law or whether a watered-down version of either of the laws would render their passing insufficiently effective. Hirsch remains hopeful that there is enough political will to have a strong law passed.

“This is not a politicized issue,” emphasized Hirsch. “This is a practice which has been internationally condemned.”

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