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Knesset begins deliberations on bill to cut funds to PA over 'martyrs' social program

June 29, 2017 5:37 P.M. (Updated: July 1, 2017 4:33 P.M.)
(File)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Israel’s parliamentary foreign affairs and defense committee began discussing on Wednesday a bill aimed at slashing tax transfers to the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority (PA) over its controversial “martyrs” compensation program, which provides financial support to Palestinians imprisoned by Israel, their families, and for relatives of those who have been killed by Israeli forces -- whether during attacks against Israelis or in situations void of wrongdoing.

The bill, which would see the Israeli government cut an estimated 1 billion shekels ($280 million) in tax transfers to the PA each year, was approved for a preliminary reading in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, earlier this month.

Israel collects an estimated $2.1 billion in taxes yearly 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 such punitive measures amount to “collective punishment.”

Knesset member (MK) Avi Dichter from the right-wing Likud party, who had chaired the discussions, said that the bill attempts to make clear to the PA and “all law-breakers” that the Israeli government would not “continue to look indifferently at the fact that the PA is signing a peace agreement on the one hand, and on the other hand sanctifies terrorists.”

“The sanctification of the terrorists who attack us as heroes, is [enshrined] there by legislation, and [takes place among] the whole chain of political leadership, [all the way up to] President Mahmoud Abbas,” Dichter added.

In Palestinian society, the Palestine Liberation Organization (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.

In addition, Israeli authorities currently hold 6,200 Palestinians in Israeli prisons, according to prisoners’ rights group Addameer, including 490 without charge or trial. The group has reported that 40 percent of the Palestinian male population has at some point been detained by Israeli forces.

The payments are estimated to be a monthly base payment of $350, which is increased depending on certain factors, such as if the individual is married, has children, or the duration of time spent in Israeli custody.

MK Elazar Stern from the Yesh Atid party, one of the MKs who had initially submitted the bill to the Knesset, said that the bill was intended to “create an opposing incentive,” adding that “instead of receiving money after the terror attacks, they will receive money once the terror stops.”

MK Mordechai Yogev from the ultra right Jewish Home party took the point further, saying that ”we are giving a carrot to those who are supposed to be getting clubbed,” while MK Amir Ohana from Likud called the PA a “terror entity headed by a terrorist in a suit,” referring to Abbas.

“Stopping the transfer of the funds is one step, but others will be needed for an all-out war against incitement,” Ohana added.

Palestinians, meanwhile, consider these funds an important social program due to the damages caused by Israel’s half-century occupation of the West Bank, which has eroded Palestinian social, economic, and political life.

Meanwhile, social and economic effects of the Nakba, or the “catastrophe,” since 1948 when Israel was established on the lands of historic Palestine, displacing approximately 750,000 people, have continued to be felt in Palestinian communities, as some 1 million Palestinians have been imprisoned by Israel and thousands have been killed over the past 69 years.

Last week, reports emerged that Abbas was left “enraged” following a meeting with US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, real estate developer Jared Kushner, who he has tasked with bringing peace to the decades long Palestinian-Israeli conflict, after he demanded that the PA reform their compensation program.

US officials had reportedly “watered down” their demands about payments to prisoners, which originally called for all payments to the PA to be completely halted. The new demands requested that the PA stop paying compensation to the families of some 600 Palestinian prisoners serving life sentences who are responsible for the deaths of Israelis.

Abbas defended the payments as a “social responsibility,” and said Israel was using the issue as a pretext to avoid peace talks, while American officials described the payments “as a means of inciting terror.”

PLO Secretary-General Saeb Erekat also slammed Kushner’s request, saying that “Israel has constantly refused to activate the trilateral committee on incitement (Palestine-Israel-United States) given that incitement and glorification of terror have been a longstanding policy by this (Israeli) extremist government.”

“We call upon the Israeli government to stop trying to find excuses to perpetuate its illegal colonial settlement occupation and systematic denial of Palestinian rights. Instead, it should work to fully end its 50-year military occupation towards achieving a just and lasting peace between Israel and Palestine.”

Despite the recent wave of condemnation for the program and fresh demands to halt it, according to the Congressional Research Service (CRS), since 2015, US funds to the PA have already been cut “by an amount the (US Secretary of State) determines is equivalent to the amount expended by the PA as payments for acts of terrorism by individuals who are imprisoned after being fairly tried and convicted for acts of terrorism and by individuals who died committing acts of terrorism during the previous calendar year.”
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