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World Middle East

How to show that terror doesn’t pay

  • Paula
How to fight terrorism while at the same time not encourage it is a challenge Israel continues to grapple with. Last Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that he was enacting the so-called “terrorist salaries law” for the first time. It allows Jerusalem to deduct from the monthly taxes it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority (PA) those monies it claims go towards terrorism.
by PAULA SLIER | Feb 21, 2019

Imported goods need to go through Israeli ports before they can reach the Palestinian territories. The value added tax (VAT) and customs duties are collected by Jerusalem, and handed over to the PA each month. Last year as much as $2.2 billion (R31 billion) was transferred.

Israeli figures suggest that from this money, each month, the PA spends nearly $11 million (R155.3 million) rewarding imprisoned as well as released prisoners. In addition, it also pays the families of wounded assailants or those considered “martyrs”. The latter includes Palestinians killed while carrying out terror attacks against Israeli civilians or during clashes with Israeli security forces.

Since 2004, Palestinian law has stated that Palestinian and Israeli Arab prisoners (defined as those “sitting in the occupation’s prisons for participating in the struggle against the occupation”) and their families are entitled to monthly “salaries”. These start from the date of arrest, and for men who serve at least five years in prison and women who serve at least two, they continue for life. Upon their release, they are given priority civil-service jobs. What this essentially means is that the more deadly the attack, the more profitable the payout.

The issue came to a head once again after a 19-year-old Israeli woman, Ori Ansbacher, was raped, repeatedly stabbed in her upper torso, and then murdered by a Palestinian man two weeks ago after she went for a walk in a Jerusalem forest. The case sparked outrage across the country, prompting Netanyahu to vow that the time was ripe to implement the law.

It was already passed last July, but Israeli politicians have been reluctant to implement it until now. They’re concerned that, as argued by Israeli security officials, its enactment could hurt security co-operation between the PA and Israel, and incentivise new terror attacks against Israeli citizens.

The rhetoric emanating from Ramallah suggests as much.

Earlier this month, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced that if Israel went ahead with the law’s enactment, he would refuse to accept all of the tax money Jerusalem collected on his government’s behalf.

After Netanyahu’s declaration a few days ago, he again insisted he would “not accept any harm to the livelihood of our imprisoned heroes and the families of martyrs and wounded”.

PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah claimed Israel’s decision was “part of a plan to destroy the National Authority, and deny it the ability to continue to provide services and fulfil its commitments to its citizens”.

Palestinian officials further justify paying these salaries as a way to offset what they regard as an unfair Israeli military court system. Israeli rights group B’tselem agrees that justice is not always served, arguing that almost 100% of arrestees brought before an Israeli military court are convicted – often unfairly.

By contrast, Jerusalem views the “terrorist salaries law” as morally just. It argues that each time the PA pays a family or individual connected to terror, others are encouraged to follow suit.

The problem, however, is that if Abbas now goes ahead with his threat to decline all tax transfers, it could lead to a humanitarian crisis for the Palestinians. After the “terror payments” are made, the PA is left with about $180 million (R2.5 billion) a month that it uses to keep its economy afloat. Without this money, it’s impossible to imagine how the Palestinian territories will continue functioning.

Abbas is also threatening to halt security co-operation with Israeli security forces in the West Bank. The risk here is that Hamas – which continues to threaten both Israel and the PA – might increase its attempts to destabilise and even try to grab power from the PA as it did in 2007 in Gaza. This would strengthen the organisation in the West Bank where its already using sleeper cells to attack Israelis.

As for Gaza, the situation is already at boiling point. Abbas’ refusal to allow money to be transferred to Hamas from Palestinian banks led Qatar to start sending suitcases filled with dollars into the strip. Since 2012, with the approval of the Israeli government, Qatar has given $1 billion (R14.1 billion) to Hamas, considered by Israel, the European Union, the United States and others, as a terrorist organisation.

Last year, $200 million (R2.8 billion) was paid to Hamas, about 80% of which went towards infrastructure, education, fuel, healthcare, and government salaries. The rest went to support the group and its affiliates.

Netanyahu has been severely criticised for allowing Doha to send this money, but he argues it ensures stability in Gaza. But isn’t it also a de facto financial reward for terror attacks? What then is the difference between Abbas paying families and individuals connected to terror and money being given to Hamas?

This is the dilemma the country finds itself in. Netanyahu needs to show that terror doesn’t pay, but at the same time he must avoid creating the circumstances that allow it to flourish.

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