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May 7, 2018 10:16 am

Lieberman Offers Strong Words, but Little Action on Palestinian Salaries for Terrorists

avatar by Maurice Hirsch / JNS.org

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Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Photo: Reuters / Ronen Zvulun.

JNS.org – One of the pressing legislative issues that the Knesset will address in its summer session is penalizing the Palestinian Authority (PA) for its nefarious practice of paying salaries to terrorists and their families.  

The leading proponent of the first Israeli legislation on this subject, submitted in March 2017, was MK Elazar Stern (Yesh Atid) who was joined by 11 other MK’s from both the opposition and the governing coalition.

The underlying principle of the bill is simple. Every month, Israel collects and transfers money, predominantly import taxes, to the PA. The taxes amount to 600-700 million shekels a month. Any sum that the PA spends to pay the salaries to terrorists and stipends to the families of dead terrorists will be permanently deducted from the taxes collected. According to the 2017 PA budget, these sums were in excess of one billion shekels.  

Five months after the first hearing in the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, the representatives of Israel’s Minister of Defense Avigdor Lieberman updated the committee that the government was going to submit its own legislation on the subject. 

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But to the dismay of the head of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, MK Avi Dichter (Likud), the Minister of Defense’s representatives refused to commit to a timeframe for its draft legislation. 

In January of this year, on the eve of an additional hearing in the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, the government published its first preliminary draft of the legislation that it intended to introduce on the subject. Its guiding principle was identical to MK Stern’s bill.

However, alongside the essential amendments that had to be made to MK Stern’s suggested law, the government added an extremely dangerous provision that would allow the cabinet to waive the deduction and transfer all funds to the PA for reasons of “national security or foreign relations.” In other words, after funds are deducted, and the Europeans shout “gevalt!” or the Palestinians threaten a return to terrorism, the government will be pressured to transfer those funds.

Despite the committee’s harsh criticism of this addition, on March 12 the government published its final draft legislation, which still included the provision in question.

The provision, which creates a clear revolving door, completely undermines both the fundamental principle of the legislation  penalizing the PA for incentivizing terrorism — and the supposedly tough approach of Lieberman himself on the subject.

When Palestinian Media Watch exposed on March 28 that the PA’s 2018 annual budget had once again allocated hundreds of millions of shekels to terrorist payments, the Defense Minister was quick to tweet“Mahmoud Abbas the terror supporter has removed the mask and taken the gloves off. We will act for a quick decision on deducting the salary money that Mahmoud Abbas is transferring to terrorists and we will stop this absurdity.” 

Indeed, the time has come to penalize the PA for rewarding and incentivizing terrorism. 

However, what is truly absurd is that the person making the tough comments against the PA policy is the same person who, despite the criticism of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and others, is responsible for a provision that would invite external pressure and completely undermine the very same law he is proposing.

Even given the questionable assumption that the new law should provide the government with some degree of discretion regarding the confiscation of the funds, complete and total discretion should not be given and certainly not based on amorphous “national security or foreign relations” considerations. 

Ideally, the discretion given to the government should be limited to transferring only a limited and defined portion of the funds confiscated. During a recent Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting, I suggested setting this limit at 50 percent.

At the same time, the discretion given to the government should be conditional on receiving a signed commitment from the PA to abolish its terrorist salary policy within a short and limited time (no more than three months). In the absence of concrete steps by the PA within the prescribed amount of time, the government would no longer have any discretion.

Since the introduction of MK Stern’s law, more than a year has passed. In that time the PA has used at least part of the money that Israel has transferred to pay more than a billion shekels in rewards for terrorism. 

Now is the time for action, not just words. The PA’s more than 20-year practice of rewarding terror, funded in part by monies provided courtesy of the Israeli government, must end. As the concerned parties have already promised, hearings should be held and the legislation finalized. 

Lt. Col. (res) Maurice Hirsch is the Head of Legal Strategies at Palestinian Media Watch. He served for 19 years in the IDF Military Advocate General Corps. In his last position he served as Director of Military Prosecution in Judea and Samaria.

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