By Maurice Hirsch
While it might be premature to eulogize Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, his recent actions demonstrate beyond any doubt that the most prominent legacy of his 15-year presidency is to reward terrorists at the expense of law-abiding Palestinians.
Paralyzed by the internal rift between his Fatah Party and the internationally recognized terrorist organization Hamas, Abbas made a positive choice to curry favor using the broadest base of Palestinian consensus – financially rewarding terrorists and their families.
Even though the PA has provided financial incentives and rewards to Palestinian terrorists since its creation, under Abbas’s leadership these payments have grown tremendously.
In 2006, Abbas approved the regulations that codified the monthly salary payments paid by the PA to Palestinian terrorists held in Israeli prisons. He also codified the practice of ensuring jobs to released terrorists in PA institutions. In 2010, he approved a salary hike for the terrorist prisoners, including a 300% rise, from 4,000 shekels per month to 12,000 shekels per month for prisoners who serve more than 30 years in prison, i.e., murderers.
In 2007 and again in 2009 and 2013, Abbas approved a hike in the monthly allowances that the PA pays to the families of dead terrorists, including suicide bombers.
Needless to say, as the number of terrorists arrested, convicted, and released has grown, and as the number of families of dead terrorists has increased, so too did the annual PA expenditure to fund their rewards.
While constantly asking the international community to fund the needs of the Palestinian population, Abbas, to the detriment of the law-abiding Palestinians, has been – and still is – squandering the limited PA funds to finance his ever-increasing rewards to terrorists.
After years of silence, during which both the Israeli authorities and the international community ignored Abbas’s practice of paying considerable financial rewards to terrorists, 2018 brought about a substantial change.
In March 2018, the Taylor Force Act conditioned any additional US support to the PA on the latter abolishing what has now become known as the PA’s “pay-for-slay” policy.
In July 2018, Israel also passed an anti-pay-for-slay law. According to that law, Israel will deduct the amount the PA spends on rewarding terrorists from the taxes it collects and transfers to the PA.
In December 2018, following a presentation by Palestinian Media Watch founder and director Itamar Marcus, the Dutch Parliament decided to reduce its support to the PA, pending the abolition of pay-for-slay. Swedish and Norwegian politicians, who also heard Marcus, expressed the same intention in January 2019.
In light of these decisions, Abbas is now faced with a harsh dilemma: Stop paying financial rewards to terrorists, or risk losing hundreds of millions of shekels, dollars and euros that could be used for the benefit of the entire Palestinian population.
Abbas’s response to the loss of the foreign aid and the impending implementation of the new Israeli law has been clear: “Even if we have only a penny left, it will only be spent on the families of the martyrs and the prisoners, and only afterwards will it be spent on the rest of the people.”
Two weeks ago, following the brutal rape and murder of Ori Ansbacher, Israel’s cabinet decided to implement the country’s new law. In the absence of clear figures regarding the total amount the PA spends on the allowances to the families of the dead terrorists, the cabinet decided to make only a partial deduction of 502 million shekels that the PA itself admitted it paid to the imprisoned and released terrorists in 2018. According to the law, that sum will now be deducted in 12 monthly installments each of about 42 million shekels.
The taxes that Israel collects and transfers to the PA amount to, on average, 670 million shekels per month. Cumulatively, they account for almost 50% of the PA’s annual budget.
Abbas’s response was again quick to come. If Israel dares to implement the law, he will refuse to accept any of the remaining taxes.
Without these funds, the PA will no longer be able to provide essential services to the innocent Palestinian population or pay the tens of thousands of its law-abiding civil servants.
As if positively choosing to deprive the law-abiding Palestinians of hundreds of millions of shekels a year while instead squandering it to pay financial rewards to terrorists was not enough, Abbas is now positively choosing to inflict financial ruin on all the Palestinians. The PA has announced that public employees and employees in the private sector will have to take pay cuts in order for the PA to continue paying terrorist murderers in full.
In the absence of any other clear legacy, Abbas will certainly be remembered as the PA chairman who paid the most in financial rewards to terrorists, at the expense of and to the detriment of the millions of law-abiding and productive Palestinians.
The writer is head of legal strategies for Palestinian Media Watch, and a retired lieutenant-colonel who served for 19 years in the IDF Military Advocate General Corps, most recently as director of Military Prosecution in Judea and Samaria.