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14
Jun
2017

Question of the Day: Did the Palestinians Stop Payments to Terrorist Convicts and Martyrs’ Families?


Mahmoud Abbas honors released prisoners.

Mahmoud Abbas honors released prisoners.

On June 13, 2017, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told a congressional hearing that the Palestinian Authority “changed that policy [of payments to terrorist convicts and families of “martyrs”], and their intent is to cease the payments to the families of those who have committed murder or violence against others.”

Is that the case? Past experience shows that what Mahmoud Abbas says to American officials and to the press is quite different from what the Palestinian Authority puts into practice.

There is no sign of the PA’s intention to change its policy. Fatah, Mahmoud Abbas’ party, is actually escalating its international campaign against Israel on the issue. 

Abbas did order the cessation of payments to 277 released Hamas convicts in Gaza, but the action emanates from an internal Palestinian political feud. Similarly, Abbas halted salaries of Fatah activists in Gaza who support Abbas’ bitter foe Muhammed Dahlan.

An Internal Palestinian Political Issue

Fatah sources assess that Marwin Barghouti, now serving life sentences for murder, will use the American announcement to bash Abbas, especially after the failure of the hunger strike he led in the Israeli prisons. Barghouti could demand treatment of the convicts as “prisoners of war” covered by the Geneva Convention.

Currently, the Al Ansar organization of the Islamic Jihad terrorist group in Gaza is offering grants to families of Gazan “martyrs.” Al Ansar just finished paying $2 million to the families of martyrs of the 2014 war. Gaza sources state that the funds came from Iran.

It is likely that Abbas’ opponents such as Hamas and Muhammed Dahlan will use Tillerson’s words to accuse Abbas of surrendering to U.S. and Israeli demands. Fatah sources suggest that Dahlan, supported by a lucrative arms business and by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, could assume the payments if the PA stops them.


Full version

On June 13, 2017, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the Palestinian Authority had “changed that policy [of payments to terrorist convicts and families of “martyrs”], and their intent is to cease the payments to the families of those who have committed murder or violence against others.”

Tillerson disclosed that he and President Trump had demanded such a change of Palestinian Authority Chairman, Mahmoud Abbas, during his visit to Washington.

The reality, however, is different. There is no sign that the PA intends to change its policy. On the contrary, the PA Prisoners’ Affairs Committee is planning to launch an international struggle against Israel on the issue. 

Since Abbas’ visit to Washington and White House meeting with Trump, only one thing has happened on the ground: the PA chairman has ordered the cessation of salary payments to 277 Hamas operatives in Gaza. Included are Yahya Sinwar, head of Hamas’ military wing, and convicts freed in the Shalit deal.

This step, however, was part of an internal Palestinian political feud. Similarly, Abbas halted salaries of Fatah activists in Gaza who support his bitter foe Muhammad Dahlan.

The measure has no connection to the demands by the Israeli government and the Trump administration that Abbas put an end to the payments to terrorist convicts and families of “martyrs,” because the payments incentivize terror. 

At the time of this writing, the PA is continuing to pay salaries to thousands of convicts from all the Palestinian factions, and to families of “martyrs and wounded.”

An Appeal to the International Criminal Court in The Hague

On June 13, 2017, the head of the Prisoners’ Affairs Committee, Issa Karaki, announced that the Palestinians are continuing to provide financial assistance to the convicts and the “martyrs’” families.

Meanwhile, a bill to deduct such payments from the tax revenues Israel transfers to the PA each month is making its way through the Knesset – and the Palestinians are very worried.

Karaki told the Palestinian Ma’an News Agency that the new law marks “the beginning of a war against the rights of the Palestinian people.” He said the Palestinians would turn to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, and claimed that all international edicts affirm the legitimacy of fighting the Israeli occupation.

Fatah sources believe that Marwan Barghouti, now serving life sentences for murder, will use the American announcement to vilify Abbas, especially after the failure of the hunger strike he led in the Israeli prisons.

According to sources close to Barghouti, the situation in the prisons remains volatile because – they claim – the Israel Prison Service is not upholding the agreement that put an end to the strike.

Fatah officials say that if the agreement is not honored, the hunger strike will resume. Barghouti, who wants to launch a new phase of the struggle against Israel, will then demand that the convicts be treated as “prisoners of war” covered by the Geneva Convention.

Iran Is Disbursing Funds to “Martyrs’” Families in Gaza

The Al-Ansar charity association, which operates in Gaza and is affiliated with the Islamic Jihad terror group, has announced on its website and in social networks that it is offering grants to families of Gazan “martyrs” killed in Operation Protective Edge in the summer of 2014.

Al-Ansar just finished paying $2 million to families of Gazans who were “martyred” from the beginning of the Second Intifada through Operation Protective Edge. Gaza sources say the funds came from Iran.

Was Tillerson’s information that the payments had stopped mistaken, or is Abbas trying to mislead the Trump administration? For the time being, there is no indication that the PA’s policy has changed. 

The Knesset’s legislative process on the bill to deduct the terror payments is important and should be accelerated. The Palestinians see it as much more threatening than Trump’s demands of Abbas.

Meanwhile, Abbas remains mum and leaving the Prisoners’ Affairs Committee to deal with the media. He apparently wants to avoid a clash with the Trump administration, especially in light of its aim to restart the diplomatic process immediately after the Eid al-Fitr holiday at the end of Ramadan. At that time, five senior Palestinian officials are supposed to leave for Washington to discuss renewing the talks with Israel.

Presumably, Abbas’ opponents such as Hamas and Muhammad Dahlan, who have launched conciliatory talks in Cairo, will use Tillerson’s words to accuse Abbas of surrendering to U.S. and Israeli demands. Fatah sources suggest that Dahlan, supported by a lucrative arms business and by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, could assume the payments if the PA stops them.

 

About Yoni Ben Menachem

Yoni Ben Menachem, a veteran Arab affairs and diplomatic commentator for Israel Radio and Television, is a senior Middle East analyst for the Jerusalem Center. He served as Director General and Chief Editor of the Israel Broadcasting Authority.
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