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Israel moves forward bill to cut tax transfer to PA over prisoners compensation program

June 11, 2017 10:05 P.M. (Updated: June 12, 2017 3:07 P.M.)
(AFP/Jack Guez, File)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- An Israeli governmental committee advanced a bill on Sunday which would see the Israeli government cease to transfer an estimated 1 billion shekels ($280 million) per year to the Palestinian Authority (PA) over the controversial “martyrs” compensation program that provides financial allowances to Palestinians imprisoned by Israel and their families.

According to the Jerusalem Post, the Ministerial Committee on Legislation voted for the bill to move to the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, where legislators are expected to cast a vote on the measure on Wednesday.

The bill targets a social program managed by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) that provides financial allowances to Palestinians imprisoned in Israel and their families, those injured by Israeli forces, and families of Palestinian "martyrs" -- those killed by Israeli forces, whether amid attacks against Israelis or in situations void of wrongdoing.

“The Palestinian Authority not only rewards murder but encourages it, and encourages murder over [just] causing injury, and encourages many victims rather than just a few,” MK Elazar Stern, who authored the bill, was quoted by The Times of Israel as saying. “That is something that must stop, not only because it isn’t moral but because it is a barrier to peace.”

The Israeli newspaper also cited Palestinian Prisoner’s Society (PPS) head Qaddura Fares, who said the bill was trying to “stigmatize the Palestinian struggle with terrorism and to conflate the issues of the so-called war on terror with the Palestinian martyrs and prisoners who fought for freedom.”

Ahmad Tibi, a member of the Knesset in the Joint List political bloc -- representing parties led by Palestinian citizens of Israel -- told Ma’an in April that the bill was part of a campaign that Israel was launching against Palestinian prisoners while attempting to exert pressure on Palestinian governmental institutions' already shaky financial status.

The PLO is responsible for providing financial assistance to families of those slain, injured, or imprisoned by Israeli forces. In 2016, this included 112 Palestinians who were killed by Israeli forces and nearly 4,000 Palestinians wounded by Israeli forces mostly during clashes, according to UN documentation.

The payments are estimated to be a monthly base payment of $350 and increase depending on certain factors, such as if the individual was married, has children, or the duration of time spent in Israeli custody, with Palestinian prisoners detained in Israeli prisons for more than 10 years receiving allowances around 10,000 shekels ($2,735).

The controversial social program has been the target of criticism in Israel for years. While the bulk of the program, which had been managed by the PLO since its inception in 1966, was shifted to the PA following the Oslo Peace Accords in 1998, following a flurry of criticism by the US government and the passing of legislation aimed at cutting funds to the PA, the payment distribution was then shifted completely back under PLO management in 2014.

Another bill was reintroduced to the US Congress in March aiming to eliminate funding to the PA unless it ceased providing funds to families of slain Palestinians and prisoners.

Palestinians have often argued that the compensation program does not have anything to do with “funding terrorism,” as Stern has claimed, but is part of a larger social program to assist Palestinian families who have been affected by Israel’s nearly half-century military occupation of the Palestinian territory.

In March, Israeli rights group B’Tselem released a report detailing how Israel has purposefully introduced legislation over the past 20 years to avoid paying compensation to Palestinians who have been injured by Israeli forces.

Israel has notably used the payments distributed by the PLO to wounded Palestinians and Palestinians killed by Israeli forces to justify forgoing compensating Palestinians, revealing a clear double standard given the Israeli government’s routine opposition to the same social program.

Israel collects an estimated $2.1 billion in taxes each year on behalf of the PA, according to a 2015 report by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), representing three quarters of the PA’s revenue.

Israel has regularly withheld transferring taxes to apply pressure on the Palestinian government, despite rights groups saying said such punitive measure amounts to “collective punishment.”
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