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Bloomberg View: Palestinian Payments to Terrorists and Their Families Fuel Violence

The brutal killing last week of American-Israeli teenager Hallel Yaffa Ariel has yet again raised the issue of how the Palestinian Authority’s payments to terrorists encourage the murder of Israelis, Eli Lake wrote for Bloomberg View on Friday.

Lake noted that although the recent joint report on Israeli-Palestinian peace talks by the Middle East Quartet acknowledged the Palestinian Authority’s role in inciting over 250 terror attacks against Israelis since last October, it “makes no mention of the ‘martyr’s fund,’ through which the Palestinian Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organization pay the families of all Palestinian prisoners and the families of martyrs.” While there is no evidence that the PA actively organizes the terror, “it encourages them as a legitimate act of resistance.”

Lake cited a recent report in Commentary which noted:

The PA has for years paid above-market salaries to the perpetrators of anti-Israel terror attacks. The salaries range from 2,400 to 12,000 shekels a month and are paid for the duration of the perpetrator’s jail sentence in Israel (people killed while committing attacks get other benefits). The lower figure is roughly equivalent to the average–not minimum–wage for people who actually hold jobs in the West Bank, and about 40 percent higher than the average wage in Gaza; figures at the higher end of the range are the kind of salaries most Palestinians can’t even dream of. In short, the PA has made terror far more lucrative than productive work.

No less repulsive is the fact that the size of the monthly salary is tied to the length of the jail sentence. The highest payments go to those serving life sentences, meaning those who managed to murder at least one Israeli, while the lowest go to those serving the shortest sentences–i.e. failed terrorists who didn’t manage to kill or wound anyone. Thus, not only does the PA incentivize committing terror over getting a job, but it also incentivizes mass murder over minor offenses.

The practice of paying families of terrorists who were jailed by Israel or died as “martyrs” goes back to the 1990’s and was formalized during the Second Intifada between 2000 and 2005. “Israelis even found documents in the late Yasser Arafat’s compound that showed payments to families of suicide bombers,” Lake added.

Israel is starting to take action against the practice, given Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s announcement last week that Israel will deduct the amount paid to terrorists from the funds it transfers to the PA. A parallel American legislative effort led by Sen. Dan Coats (R – Ind.) would also close a loophole the PA exploited two years ago by abolishing the department in charge of disbursing the payments, and creating a new department of the Palestine Liberation Organization to make those payments instead. The PA then increased its annual contributions to the PLO in order to maintain (and then increase) the payment budget.

Frank Lowenstein, the U.S. special envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, told Lake that the Obama administration has been withholding development assistance from the PA corresponding to “Palestinian payments to individuals imprisoned for acts of terrorism” in line with current legislation. The amount of aid being withheld is classified.

While the practice of rewarding terrorists and their families is abhorrent to many in Israel, it remains popular in the PA. Ziad Asali, the president and founder of the American Task Force on Palestine, told Lake that while some Palestinians doubt that anti-Israel terror helps their cause, “I think nobody really has the stature and clout to confront these issues publicly.”

Ariel’s killer, Muhammad Nasser Tarayrah, who was later fatally shot by Israeli security forces, was called a “martyr” by the Palestinian Authority. Tarayrah’s mother expressed her pride in her son’s actions. “If the past is precedent,” Lake wrote, “she will receive a steady check to honor her son’s murder of a 13-year-old Jewish girl in her sleep.”

Criticism of the PA’s terrorist payment policy has grown in recent months. The Mail on Sunday reported in March that the PA was continuing to use British foreign aid money to pay terrorists’ salaries despite having promised to stop. Several weeks later, the watchdog group Palestinian Media Watch showed that the PA was using aid money from other countries as well. PA President Mahmoud Abbas did not deny that his government paid salaries to terrorists when pressed by on that point in May by Norwegian Foreign Minister Borge Brende. The United Kingdom announced a probe last month into whether foreign aid money was being misused to pay salaries to terrorists.

Since the amount of money awarded to the terrorists correlates to the amount of time they’re serving in prison, “the more gruesome the terrorism, the more money will be paid,” The Jerusalem Post reported in October.

[Photo: Miriam Alster / Flash90 ]