Reflections on the PA’s refusal to accept tax funds from Israel as a result of the anti-“Pay for Slay” Law

By Brig. Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser

The short term benefits Israel gains from security cooperation with PA are of less value than those enjoyed by the Palestinians, and worth even less when measured against the long term strategic damage resulting from Israel’s resigning itself to the constant incitement, promotion of terror and the political struggle against Israel by the PA.

Abu Mazen’s stubborn refusal to accept tax revenues collected by Israel for the Palestinian Authority (PA) now that the Anti-“Pay for Slay” Law passed by the Knesset in July 2018 has been implemented, raised concerns in Europe and Israel that the PA would soon find itself in a state of collapse. The Anti-“Pay for Slay” Law allows Israel to deduct from the tax revenues it transfers to the PA every month one twelfth of the expenses incurred during the previous year as a result of the PA paying salaries to incarcerated terrorists and the families of terrorists  killed during terrorist attacks.

The Europeans suggested the PA change the basic way the payments are granted and begin to allocate them to terrorists’ families according to economic need, and even declared that they cannot support a system that pays salaries to terrorists.  However, Abu Mazen rejected that possibility out of hand and continues to demand Israel transfer the entire sum to PA coffers. In response, the Europeans hastened to transfer 15 mill. Euro to the PA to pay workers’ salaries (this is more than the amount deducted by Israel) and another 20 mill. in May to cover welfare stipends, thereby revealing not only their fears for the PA but also their commitment to it, as well as their hypocrisy.

The United States, in contrast, has demonstrated the determination to stand by its principles and at a special debate on May 9th in the Security Council, held at the request of Indonesia, on “Israeli crimes against the Palestinians in the West Bank,” the US delegate came out forcefully against the PA’s deplorable and terror-motivating practice of paying salaries to terrorists. He called on the members of the council to cease aid to the PA until it ends its “Pay for Slay” policy.

It seems that Abu Mazen’s goal is to obtain Israeli and international legitimacy for salary payments to terrorists, as set out in a 2004 law passed by the PA legislature. Israel’s silence on the subject up to the year 2017 along with the half-hearted criticism of donor nations created the sense that Israel and international bodies were prepared to turn a blind eye to the terror incentives the PA pays for terror against Israel,–i.e. in effect a de facto recognition of the PA’s position that this terror is legitimate. The PA’s thesis on the legitimacy of terror was expressed in an official paper published by the PLO Committee for Interaction with Israeli Society during Israel’s recent election campaign.

Abu Mazen’s obdurate refusal to compromise on this issue seems to be a result of the following factors:

  1. The Palestinian Authority leadership’s growing fear that the change in the attitude to the Palestinian narrative on the part of United States, Israel and to a certain extent even the Arab world, will lead to increased pressure on the Palestinians to accept the need to change that narrative. The US decision to stop economic aid to the PA as long as it continues to pay salaries to terrorists and their families (the Taylor Force Law) and the Israeli Law to that effect, in addition to American recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and worrying messages from the Arab world, are harbingers of the greatest threat of all, “Trump’s Deal of the Century,” rejected out of hand by the Palestinians before its release.

The Palestinian Authority fears that agreeing to a compromise now will open the door to a wave of additional pressures, including demands that they stop incitement and recognize Israel as the national homeland of the Jewish People—while the truth is that they reject the very existence of a Jewish People and do not recognize that the Jewish nation has a history of sovereignty in the Land of Israel. This is the basis for their claim that there is no justification for creating the Jewish nation’s state on that land and for their belief that all forms of struggle against Zionism are legitimate.

  1. Abu Mazen’s belief that influential Israeli and European circles, including the security establishment, view strengthening the Palestinian Authority, and certainly preventing its collapse, as being in Israel and Europe’s best interests. They will therefore, give in to the pressure he exerts through the creation of an artificial economic crisis. It is worth noting that Abu Mazen himself has not used the threat of possible economic collapse. He leaves that to those in his inner circle who speak to the Israeli media, the Europeans and to anxious Israeli groups. This anxiety, according to his viewpoint, makes the Israelis and Europeans easy prey for extortion – a situation of which he intends to take full advantage.
  1. His authentic and deep-seated commitment to the Palestinian narrative and a desire to strengthen his image as the leader of the struggle for Palestinian nationalist goals – i.e. establishing a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders without giving up the demand for a Palestinian state on all of mandatory Palestine – whose loyalty to the cause is no less adamant than that of his political rivals, headed by Hamas.
  1. His hope that the Arab states will come to his aid and grant the PA a “financial safety net” of NIS 200-300 million annually, allowing him to continue to function without compromising his principles until such time as he receives the tax revenues temporarily frozen by Israel. Qatar’s pledge to support the Palestinians with nearly a half billion dollars and the promises made by the Arab states at the recent Arab League foreign ministers’ conference encouraged him to count on their help, despite the Palestinian leadership’s doubts about those promises being kept.

Abu Mazen’s strategy is only partially successful at this point. There are Europeans, notably French President Macron, who turned to Israel, requesting it refrain from deducting money from the tax revenues, while some Israeli public figures expressed their worries about this leading to the PA’s collapse (according to reports, prime minister Netanyahu and finance minister Kahlon even discussed ways to convince Abu Mazen to agree to accept the money remaining after the deduction, as that makes up the major part of the funding). Most prominent were the Israeli media and to a lesser extent commentators on security issues, who identified with the PA’s messages and those of its supporters in Europe and Israel, emphasizing the danger to the joint security operations, which they consider a critical element in maintaining Israeli security.

Members of the Israeli media attempted to create the false impression that the Security Cabinet decision to implement the Anti-“Pay for  Slay” Law was passed on February 17th in order to influence the April 9 election results and as a result of Ori Ansbacher’s murder  (on February7th). They claimed that Israel would in all probability capitulate to Abu Mazen’s pressure and the fear of PA collapse and begin to transfer the entire sum once again. In this context, it should be noted that the wording of the Israeli law, passed in July 2018 with the support of 87 Knesset members, from both the coalition and opposition, at the end of a legislative process that took approximately one year and had nothing to do with the elections, does not grant the Security Cabinet any discretion in implementing the law.

The Security Cabinet’s purview is deciding how much the PA paid in wages to terrorists last year, based on the data presented to it by the Defense Ministry. Clearly, there is no way to present this information before the start of the calendar year so that the law’s implementation could only take place after the Defense Ministry presented the Cabinet with the partial data it had  gathered on payments to terrorists in 2018. The process of obtaining this information took a reasonable amount of time, especially when taking into account that this is the first time the Defense Ministry was asked to do so, and the Cabinet’s decision was a request that the ministry gather the missing data as well. (In fact, the Defense Ministry’s data shows that in 2018, the PA paid prisoners in Israeli jails close to NIS 502 million, while the amount actually appearing in the PA budget was closer to NIS550 million. The Defense Ministry report did not include payments to families of terrorists killed in action, totaling NIS 687 million.) In other words, the process by which the law was implemented is a result of the law itself, free from political considerations. The law reflects Israel’s decision to do what is natural and self-evident – cease making it easy for the PA to provide monetary incentives for terrorists to murder Israelis.

With this as backdrop, Israel has not expressed any official intention of not continuing to carry out the deductions, particularly since the United States is continuing its commitment to implement the Taylor Force Act.  It is inconceivable to imagine that Israel might feel less obligated to prevent encouraging terror than the United States. Moreover, neither has the European Union taken steps to convince Israel to change its mind. If this state of affairs continues for a while, Abu Mazen may be forced to rethink the situation and agree in the end to accept the remainder of the revenues Israel collects for the PA.

At any rate, the PA leadership’s insistence on continuing wage payments to terrorists and their families, even at the price of an artificial economic crisis, shows once again that in Palestinian eyes the Oslo Accords did not reflect a substantive change in Palestinian national aspirations or in the methods employed to achieve them. This raises questions about the meaning of the Oslo Accords and the PA’s existence vis-a-vis Israel. If paying wages to terrorists (including the many terrorists whose attacks took place after the Oslo Accords were in force) is the raison d’etre for the PA’s establishment, as Abu Mazen seems to be saying, in addition to his contention that since the terrorists were sent by the Palestinian leadership, it is responsible for them – one cannot help asking whether Israel has to insist on maintaining the PA’s existence at any price.

True, there is cooperation on security issues with the PA, but that serves the interests of both sides. The PA cooperates mainly in the battle against Hamas, its political rival within the Palestinian camp, and hardly lifts a finger against the  phenomenon of lone terrorists ,which it actually encourages by means of continuous incitement  (including paying salaries to terrorists and glorifying them), all of which creates the public consciousness needed for the phenomenon to exist.

The short term benefits Israel gains from this security cooperation are of less value than those enjoyed by the Palestinians, and worth even less when measured against the long term strategic damage resulting from Israel’s resigning itself to the constant incitement, promotion of terror and the political struggle against Israel carried out by the PA.  Israel should not do anything to hasten the PA’s breakdown, because it has no desire to rule over the Palestinians and run their day to day lives, but it also should not feel more obligated to the PA’s continued existence than do the Palestinians themselves, thereby leaving itself open to continuous extortion on strategic issues. Israel has no real reason to be anxious about the Palestinians purposely causing their government’s collapse, because its existence is the most important accomplishment of the Palestinians so far, at least in their own eyes, on the road to achieving their nationalist goals through the “phased plan” they adopted in 1974.

The Anti-“Pay for Slay” Law reflects Israel’s rude awakening from the intentional blindness guiding its policies up to now, a step towards beginning to operate according to policies based on reality. Only this kind of policy, as elucidated by US government spokesmen, can form the basis for a process leading to a final status agreement.

Brig. Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser , is former Director General of the Israel Ministry of Strategic Affairs. He served as  head of the research division in the Israel Defense Force Military Intelligence division  

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