Palestinian rally marking Palestinian Prisoners Day in Shechem, Samaria. (Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90) Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90
Palestinian prisoners

PA leader Mahmoud Abbas’ remarks at the Arab League gathering in Cairo show his preference for the well-being of terrorists over hard-working employees.

By Bassam Tawil, The Gatestone Institute

Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas recently reaffirmed his longstanding commitment to pay families of Palestinians who were imprisoned for or killed during terrorist attacks against Israelis. “We have been paying the families of the prisoners and martyrs since 1965,” Abbas told Arab League foreign ministers during an emergency meeting in Cairo on April 21.

Abbas’ insistence on paying millions of dollars to families of Palestinians who murder or attempt to murder Jews has cost the Palestinians a heavy price. In the past two months, Abbas’ government has been unable to pay full salaries to its 200,000 employees.The reason? Israel has begun deducting, from the tax revenues it collects on behalf of the Palestinians, the same amount the PA government pays each month to the families of the prisoners and “martyrs.”

Facing a sharp financial crisis, the PA government says it has been forced to pay its employees only 50%-60% of their salaries because Israel has been deducting the large sums of money that were supposed to go to the families of prisoners and terrorists who carried out attacks against Israelis.

In his speech before the Arab foreign ministers, Abbas urged the Arab states to provide the Palestinians with financial aid to prevent the PA from collapsing. Referring to Israel’s opposition to the payments made to Palestinian terrorists and their families, Abbas explained: “We’ve been paying them since 1965 because they died or were imprisoned or wounded for the sake of a national interest and not for personal reasons. It’s our duty to care for the families.” Abbas further claimed that Israel has deducted more than $100 million from the tax revenues in the past two months.

According to a report published by Wafa, the total annual budget of the Palestinian Authority is $5 billion. The amount that supports prisoners directly is $155 million, out of which $147 million are spent on transfers to the prisoners. These include “salaries” to 5,000 current prisoners, paying Israeli fines for 1,200 prisoners, grants to 1,500 prisoners upon their release, grants for 1,200 unemployed released prisoners, salaries for 5,500 released prisoners, and unspecified amounts to released prisoners who spent more than 10 years in jail.

The PA budget for supporting the families of “martyrs” and the wounded is $185 million, Wafa noted. This sum is used to make sure that 24,000 families of “martyrs” and wounded get a monthly allowance.

In a further example of business as usual, the Arab League ministers promptly issued a statement pledging $100 million per month to the PA to compensate it for the funds withheld by Israel. Based on past experience, though, the likelihood of this promise being fulfilled is next to nothing. The Arab states have been strikingly generous with the Palestinians when it comes to lip service. However, when it comes to filling Palestinian coffers, the Palestinians have, in the past 25 years, seen hardly any real assistance from their Arab brethren.

The failure of the Arab states to come to the aid of the Palestinians is far from a new development. In fact, the Palestinians have long lamented that the Arab world has turned its back on them.

Less well understood is Abbas’ readiness to sacrifice the livelihood of tens of thousands of families of public employees for the sake of supporting Palestinian terrorists. Abbas’ remarks at the Arab League gathering in Cairo and other statements he has made in the past few months demonstrate his preference for the well-being of terrorists over the ability of hard-working employees to put bread on the table for their families.

In the past few months, Abbas has made explicit his list of priorities – and topping that list are would-be Jew killers. The families of the terrorists, Abbas has stated, should be the first to receive salaries from his government. These families, according to him, are entitled to be at the head of the line of those standing to receive their salaries.

On July 23, 2018, at a Ramallah ceremony honoring Palestinian terrorists, Abbas referred to the prisoners and “martyrs” as “pioneers” and “stars in the sky of the Palestinian people’s struggle who have a top priority in everything.” Abbas said: “We will neither reduce nor withhold the allowances of the families of martyrs, prisoners, and released prisoners, as some want [us to do]; if we had one single penny left, we would spend it on the families of the martyrs and the prisoners.”

Abbas has been left with much more than a penny because Israel has been withholding only a small percentage of the tax and tariff revenues it collects on behalf of the Palestinians. Israel’s move is not aimed at punishing the entire Palestinian public as much as sending a message to Palestinian leaders to cease and desist from paying Palestinians to murder Jews.

As Abbas stated explicitly, the Palestinian leadership has indeed been making such payments since 1965. Could he possibly have meant to imply that this fact makes such a policy moral? These payments lie at the heart of Palestinian incitement to terror that drives the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

If anyone is collectively punishing the Palestinians, it is Abbas himself. He is depriving tens of thousands of families of full salaries, thus preventing them from purchasing food for their children or paying various fees, including rent and university tuition. The only families who continue to receive full salaries are those whose sons and daughters are in prison or in the grave for murdering or attempting to murder Jews. A Palestinian civil service employee who sends his son to university does not get a full salary. A Palestinian whose son sets out to murder a Jew is entitled to a full salary and earns more respect from Palestinian leaders.

What message is Abbas sending to his people? It is that those who wish to eat had better turn to terror. The families of the public employees who are now unable to pay their grocery bill and rent are now looking at the families of the terrorists with envy. They must be saying to themselves: “We are suckers because we didn’t send our children to stab a Jew!” This is the education that the Palestinian leaders have been providing since 1965.

Bassam Tawil is a Muslim Arab based in Jerusalem.

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