Diplomacy

Abbas Defends Payments to Terrorists After Meeting With U.S. Envoys

After meeting with top American envoys on Wednesday about efforts to find a diplomatic solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas defiantly defended his government’s practice of paying salaries to terrorists and their families.

In a speech read on Abbas’ behalf by his senior adviser Nabil Shaath at the Herzliya Conference on Thursday, the Palestinian president claimed that “when the international community has an opportunity to move forward with a final status agreement between Israel and Palestine, the governments of Mr. Netanyahu find an excuse to avoid discussing the key issues,” The Times of Israel reported.

“The most recent pretexts include incitement and social aid provided to the families of Palestinian political prisoners,” Abbas added, calling payments to imprisoned Palestinians—many of whom were convicted of serious security offenses—a “social responsibility.”

Abbas met with top United States officials on Wednesday, including Jared Kushner, senior adviser to President Donald Trump; Jason Greenblatt, the president’s special representative for international negotiations; and Donald Blome, the U.S. consul general in Jerusalem.

According to a White House readout, the meeting was productive and the parties “reaffirmed their commitment to advancing President Trump’s goal of a genuine and lasting peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians that enhances stability in the region.” They also recognized “that forging peace will take time and stressed the importance of doing everything possible to create an environment conducive to peacemaking.”

A preliminary meeting on Tuesday between Greenblatt and Abbas “had not gone well and became tense over the Martyrs’ Fund,” the Associated Press reported, citing comments by a senior Palestinian official. While Greenblatt insisted that the PA stop paying terrorists, “the Palestinians had rebuffed Greenblatt’s pressure,” the AP added.

Earlier this month, PA officials confirmed that they will continue paying salaries to terrorists and their families, contradicting an assertion by U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that the policy had been stopped. Issa Qaraqe, head of the Palestinian Committee of Prisoners’ Affairs, characterized American and Israeli pressure to end the payments as “aggression against the Palestinian people.”

In a joint appearance with Abbas last month, President Trump said, “Peace can never take root in an environment where violence is tolerated, funded and even rewarded.” Days earlier, an adviser to Abbas called Trump’s request to end the payments to terrorists “insane.”

The PA issued payments to terrorists and their families totaling more than $1 billion over a four year period, according to a recent study by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. The sum accounts for seven percent of the PA’s budget and is equivalent to 20 percent of the foreign aid the PA receives annually.

The Wall Street Journal‘s editorial board argued in November that payments to Palestinian terrorists “are an official incentive program for murder that in any other context would be recognized as state sponsorship of terror.”

Eli Lake wrote in Bloomberg View in July that offering salaries to Palestinians who kill Israelis “encourages” terror attacks “as a legitimate act of resistance.”

The subject of payments to terrorists came to the fore in Britain in March 2016 after The Mail on Sunday published an exposé showing that the PA paid generous salaries to a number of convicted Palestinian terrorists. That report, as well as another released by Israel Radio, was based on research done by Palestinian Media Watch, a nonprofit that has documented how the PA incentivizes terror since 2011.

A 2014 report in The Telegraph showed that the PA used over $90 million in British foreign aid to pay convicted terrorists in 2013. This equaled around 16 percent of all foreign aid payments to the PA.

[Photo: President Mahmoud Abbas / Facebook]