When President Trump met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in February, stepping into the fray of the long-standing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he expressed his opinion on the one- or two-state solution by saying, “I can live with either one.”
Trump will meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas this coming week. One item that ought to be on the agenda is a scarcely known feature of civic life in the West Bank: monthly salaries and lump-sum payments to terrorists. Without apology or shame, and yet in conflict with the Oslo Accords and professed aspirations for peace, the Palestinian Authority is running a bounty system. Payments to terrorists and their families are enshrined in Palestinian law, provided for in the Palestinian Authority budget and indirectly supported by foreign aid.
Israeli settlements may be obstacles to peace, but so, too, is Palestinian incitement, epitomized by these lavish incentives to commit violence. Surely this is something Trump should not be able to live with.
To demonstrate how aboveboard these payments are: According to Palestinian laws passed in 2004 and amended in 2013, Palestinians and Israeli Arabs who are convicted of attacks in Israel (“participation in the struggle against the occupation”) are entitled to monthly “salaries” commencing with their arrest (and continuing for life for men who serve at least five years and women who serve at least two), along with additional cash grants and priority civil-service job placements upon their release.
In this lethal logic, the longer a prison sentence — really, the more deadly an attack — the more profitable the payout. Even toward the lower end of the scale, the salaries are more lucrative than most West Bank jobs. In accordance with Palestinian Authority Government Decision No. 32 of 2010, those imprisoned for three to five years, for instance, get $570 a month. And those committing crimes that result in prison sentences of at least 30 years receive salaries of more than $3,400 a month — 20 times the per capita income in the West Bank. Of course, some prisoners are sentenced to multiple life terms and will never be released. But those who are can expect a lump-sum payment of as much as $25,000 — like a bonus for bad behavior.
Palestinian officials show little compunction defending these practices. Killing Israelis is part of the popular resistance, and those who serve as “martyrs” should be compensated for their sacrifice. A spokesman for the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Commission of Prisoners and Released Prisoners’ Affairs, Hassan Abd Rabbo, said that “it is the right of all of the prisoners and martyrs who have struggled and sacrificed for Palestine to receive their full salaries from the PA.” The Palestinian prime minister, Rami Hamdallah, has stated that inmates are “prisoners of war” and that “their cause is the cause of all of us.”
But incentivizing the murder of civilians is barbarism, and it happens to offer a career path for ardent and enterprising Palestinians. The “lone wolves” who perpetrate stabbings, shootings and car-rammings are not really acting alone — they are a people’s army recruited to kill by their government.
Families are provided for, too. The 2013 decree specifies that the government will cover health insurance and tuition for these prisoners and their spouses and children. And for the families of “martyrs,” there is an additional mechanism of support. As translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute, the Palestinian Authority’s 2016 budget describes the Institute for Care for the Families of Martyrs as the organization “responsible for ensuring a dignified life to the families of all those martyred and wounded as a result of being participants or bystanders in the revolution.” That would include people killed in Israeli offensives, but it also includes people killed while attacking Israel. As of 2011, according to Palestinian media reports, each family received a lump payment of $1,560, plus a monthly stipend of at least $364.
When murderers are hailed as heroes and welcomed into the high ranks of government, when public squares and streets and summer camps are named after terrorists who killed Israeli children, Palestinian leaders can’t reasonably expect their next generation to dream of becoming doctors, teachers and peacemakers.
In its 2016 budget, the Palestinian Authority allocated approximately $140 million for payments to incarcerated and released prisoners and $175 million for payments to the families of “martyrs.” All together, these grisly rewards amount to roughly 7 percent of the authority’s budget. In 2014, in a cynical sleight of hand, the Palestinian Authority passed off the official responsibility of allocating these payments to the PLO. The funds, however, still originate from the Palestinian Authority’s budget and are designated for the same purpose — and Abbas controls both entities.
Imagine if that money and administrative finesse were used to deliver better health care, education and enhanced quality of life to the West Bank.
Ironically, the payments derive, in part, from foreign aid that’s intended to meet humanitarian needs, sustain the Palestinian economy and discourage violence.
For its part, the United States provides approximately $400 million a year in economic assistance to the Palestinian territories, much of it in the form of grants and contracts for specific projects, such as water and sanitation; a portion is dedicated to directly supporting the Palestinian Authority’s annual budget. Those direct payments are surely commingled with salaries to terrorists. But since money is fungible, any support the United States provides has the potential to free up funds elsewhere that can be used for this illegal purpose.
With that in mind, in recent appropriation cycles, Congress has asked the State Department to reduce U.S. aid to the Palestinians by an amount equivalent to what the Palestinian Authority spends on “payments for acts of terrorism.” (The precise amount of aid that has been withheld is classified.) And yet Palestinian Authority budget allocations for those payments have continued to increase.
Now many U.S. legislators want to go further to restrict aid. Before both houses of Congress is the Taylor Force Act. Force, a 28-year-old West Point graduate and an Army veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, was on a trip to Israel in March of last year when a Palestinian attacked a crowd with a knife. After fatally stabbing Force and injuring 10 others, the terrorist was shot and killed by police. Abbas’s Fatah party praised the attacker as a “heroic martyr,” and the official Palestinian Authority TV station broadcast his funeral. No doubt his family was richly compensated.
The Taylor Force Act provides that economic aid to the West Bank and Gaza must be conditioned on the secretary of state certifying that the Palestinian Authority is working to prevent attacks like the one that killed Force, is condemning such acts and “has terminated payments for acts of terrorism against United States and Israeli citizens.” The act would effectively cut U.S. aid in half unless the Palestinian Authority abandoned this practice.
The United States is not alone in registering disgust. In December, Britain temporarily halted its funding to the Palestinian Authority. Germany, Australia and Norway are contemplating similar measures. Enabling Palestinians to distribute blood money not only violates the obligations of the Oslo Accords, it also contravenes the 1999 U.N. Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terror and the 2001 U.N. Security Council Resolution to combat international terror in the aftermath of 9/11. All nations that provide the Palestinian Authority with a blank check for such illicit affairs are complicit in the killing of civilians.
Israel, however, is ambivalent about taking action against the Palestinian Authority. It could withhold taxes collected on the authority’s behalf and deduct all monies that are being directed to terrorists and their families. But Israel, along with the United States, fears that the Palestinian Authority might collapse and something worse might take its place. With Hamas, Hezbollah, al-Qaeda and the Islamic State representing Islam’s most savage extremes, West Bank knife-stabbers may be the preferred poison. These are not Gazans, after all, who launch tens of thousands of rockets indiscriminately and build terror tunnels.
The West Bank Palestinians are the inheritors of the Oslo Accords, who purportedly want peace with Israel, have agreed to eliminate terrorism and accept Jewish statehood beside their own. And yet, the West Bank is not showing that it’s ready for neighborly peace. Instilling a profit motive for terror, transforming it into a vocation, is not a reassuring sign that stability is in this region’s future.
It’s true that Israel’s expansion of settlements provokes Palestinians rather than creating the necessary trust that it, too, believes in Palestinian statehood. But assisting Jews who wish to live in the West Bank, which is their historic homeland as well, is not akin to placing a bounty on the heads of Palestinians.
Palestinians don’t have to be saints; they just can’t be assassins. The latter belies the presumptions of statesmanship. Abolishing the incentives for killing Israelis is both a moral necessity and a demonstration that nation-building, and not violence, is their main objective.