CAMERA Op-Ed: How the Palestinian Authority’s ‘Social Safety Net’ Encourages Terrorism

(Note: An earlier version of this Op-Ed appeared in The Hill on May 17, 2017)

The Palestinian Authority’s decision to pay salaries to terrorists and their families has been excused by some analysts and media commentators as a form of social welfare. They overlook the PA’s own stated reasons for the payments, as well as the role that they play in promoting anti-Jewish violence and a culture of hate.

In recent commentaries for The Hill and elsewhere, some have argued in favor of the Palestinian Authority’s decision to pay salaries to terrorists and their families. But these payments violate both the terms and spirit of the Oslo accords under which the authority was created. Palestinian society and leadership promote terror by rewarding those who support and carry out terrorist attacks.

Commentators such as Palestinian-American journalist Daoud Kuttab have asserted that U.S. and Israeli efforts to force the PA to stop paying terrorists and their families constitute “collective punishment.” They maintain that the money “is not given to terrorists” and are not “a reward for acts of terror,” and instead constitute “a natural act of social support that is provided to all Palestinian families.” This is disingenuous, as a few important facts make clear.

The Palestinian Authority’s own Ministry of Public Affairs, in a 2010 report, noted that 63 percent of those imprisoned and receiving payments were single. Yet, they still received the same basic salaries as those with families, according to Palestinian Media Watch (PMW), a non-profit organization that translates Arab media in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria), eastern Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. Moreover, PMW noted, “Palestinian law explicitly refers to the payments of salaries (Rawatib), ”not “social welfare” payments as some claim. Indeed, the Palestinian Authority even treats the payments as salaries by withholding income tax on them.

The PA’s decision to pay terrorists and their families is enshrined in the authority’s own laws. As Thane Rosenbaum, an essayist and distinguished fellow at the New York University School of Law, noted in an April 28, 2017Washington Postcommentary: Palestinian laws passed in 2004 and amended in 2013 stipulate that convicted terrorists receive monthly “salaries.” Further, cash grants and priority civil-service job placements are offered to those who carry out terror attacks. The 2004 law even specifies that the financial support is for the “fighting sector,” an “integral part of the fabric of Arab Palestinian society.”

Mahmoud al-Aloul, a former terrorist who now serves as the deputy to PA President Mahmoud Abbas, has been clear on the reasons for the payments. According to a Palestinian news agency, al-Aloul—who goes by the nickname Abu Jihad (Father of Jihad)—exhorted that “injured, Martyrs, and prisoners are Palestinian fighters, and that we must under no circumstances accede to the pressures to stop their allowances.” Other officials from the Palestinian Authority, and the Fatah movement that dominates it, have defended the payments to “martyrs.” Abbas’ own foreign affairs adviser, Nabil Shaath, contended that the imprisoned terrorists were “victims” and called U.S. attempts to stop the payments “insane.”

The PA is not the only entity to offer payments to terrorists and their families. Hamas, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and Palestinian Islamic Jihad—similar to the PA—also provide money to the families of so-called “martyrs.” As the terror analyst Matthew Levitt noted in his 2006 bookHamas: Politics, Charity, and Terrorism in the Service of Jihad, these efforts shore up support and incentivize carrying out attacks. All of these organizations are U.S.-designated terrorist groups. By contrast, the PA pretenses moderation and is a major recipient of U.S. aid. That aid, as Rosenbaum notes, makes fungible the PA’s ability to pay terrorists—directly contradicting stated U.S. objectives to advance peace and prevent terrorism.

According to Rosenbaum, the PA allocated nearly 7 percent of its 2016 budget to paying incarcerated prisoners and the families of those killed while carrying out attacks.

Indeed as Doug Feith, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, and Sander Gerber, a fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, havenoted, the authority has created the Prisoners and Released Prisoners Ministry and the Institution for the Care for the Families of Martyrs to manage these payments. The former is a cabinet level post and in 2016 were allocated a combined total of more then $300 million.

Some have said it’s false that “the more Jews a Palestinian kills, the more money they will get.” But as Feith and Gerber point out, payments and benefits are predicated, in part, on the length of sentence. So the greater the crime, the greater the pay-off.

Arguments that cite the roots of the Arab-Israeli conflict as being about “land, borders and security” overlook the role that glorifying anti-Jewish violence plays in Palestinian society. Under the Palestinian Authority, sports tournaments and streets are named after slain terrorists, and official media and school textbooks routinely deny Israel’s right to exist within any borders. As PMW has documented, candy is handed out in Palestinian streets in celebration after Jews have been murdered and murderers like Muhannad Shafeq Halabi—who stabbed a two-year old child in an October 2015 attack—are rewarded with posthumous honorary college degrees from PA-supported institutions.

Rewarding and celebrating those who commit terror attacks has played a particularly pernicious role in perpetuating the conflict. A failure to acknowledge this fact makes peace less likely and bloodshed more certain—and tragically profitable.

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