The Washington Post’s Fact Checker’s column, “Does the Palestinian Authority pay $350 million a year to ‘terrorists and their families’?” (March 14, 2018), was less successful at fact-checking than at whitewashing the official Palestinian Authority policy of promoting and incentivizing terror by rewarding terrorists.
Glenn Kessler’s article represents some of the major problems with the attitude of Western media toward the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. It verifies that the Palestinian Authority pays huge sums to perpetrators of terrorist acts and their families and confirms that the PA operates two organizations dedicated to this purpose. It also affirms that the salaries are malignly promised in advance to the terrorists and grow as the violence perpetrated causes greater damage.
Yet it fails in its unmandated moral exploration and judgment of what constitutes “terror.” Appallingly, it excuses payments to civilian attackers for intentional violence against innocents to promote political and religious goals. After 9/11, ISIS massacres, and Palestinian murders of Jews, Kessler shamefully resorts to the sloppy and evil excuse: “this brings us back to the cliché that one man’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter.”
As Ambassador Dore Gold, president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, noted: “Kessler enters the swamp of moral relativism, which in the current context means that no one is in a position to judge even the most heinous terror attacks, and this leads to terror with impunity and the world becomes more dangerous as international standards are not upheld.”
This attitude ignores the context. The terrorists are paid in accordance with Palestinian Authority law that defines them as the “fighting sector” of Palestinian society. There are two PA Institutions established by law to provide for the “prisoners and martyrs,” which are allocated $350 million in the official PA budget for 2017. In addition, Palestinian leaders regularly honor terrorists, erect memorials to commemorate them, and PA curricula and media praise them. This reflects the Palestinian narrative that regards the ongoing struggle against Zionism as an imperative for any Palestinian until victory. This is the logic behind the terror payments that is ignored, but should not be,
Secondly, this attitude also ignores the Palestinian Authority commitment to the Oslo Accords, according to which the PA is supposed to fight terror and incitement to terror.
Third, those who adopt this attitude are ready to tolerate violence. The PA promotes acts of stone throwing, stabbing, and vehicular attacks that go far beyond civil disobedience. If the PA insists that the Prisoners’ Commission and Martyrs Institution only provide benefits for “freedom fighters,” then it must also acknowledge that they are in an open state of war against the Israel civilian population.
Fourth, this attitude relies heavily on biased NGOs without mentioning their raison d’être – the demonization of Israel. In an attempt to justify mentioning their information to justify the “pay-to-slay” policy, Kessler cites the Palestinians’ claim that “prison payments are an effort to rebalance a deeply unfair system under occupation.”
In fact, this is not the real justification Palestinians use to defend their policy of salaries to terrorists. The PA sees terrorists as warriors and heroes sent on their mission by the Palestinian authorities, as noted, for example, on the Prisoners’ Commission website and suicide martyr posters. This is why the PA leadership, including Mahmoud Abbas himself, insists that they will keep paying terrorists under any circumstances. On January 14, 2018, Abbas addressed the PLO Central Council, saying:
We don’t want war. We will not call for a military war with Israel. Whoever has [weapons] – go ahead and do it. I say this out in the open. If you have weapons, go ahead. I’m with you, and I will help you. Anyone who has weapons can go ahead. I don’t have weapons. I want the peaceful political path to reach a settlement. I see that there are only a few supporters of peace here. All the others are into war. The Americans are always telling us that we must stop paying salaries to the families of the martyrs and the prisoners. We categorically reject this demand. Under no circumstances will we allow the families of the martyrs, the wounded, and the prisoners to be harmed. These are our children, our families. We are proud of them, and we will pay them before we pay the living.1
Fifth, the Fact Checker has apparently redacted the information provided to him by the PA. Some of the information from the PA detailed how the PA spends its money on the terrorists. Most, but not all, is defined as salaries, and the rest are other benefits to the terrorists (health insurance, legal services, education fees, etc.) that add to their salaries. The salaries themselves amount to more than 70 percent of the total budget allocated to the terrorists over the years.
In the end, just one fact matters: The PA proudly and by its own law pays a very considerable amount of money every year to promote terror by rewarding terrorists who are either incarcerated in Israeli jails or died in the context of their terror activity. There is a sliding scale of payments: The more harm the perpetrators wreak in their terror acts, the higher are their salaries and benefits.
While trying to impugn Prime Minister Netanyahu’s correct assertion that the total 2017 funding of the Prisoner and Martyr Program is $350 million, Kessler misses the purpose of these entities.
The Fact Checker’s subjective judgment misses the main point: the PA terror payments policy incentivizes terror that has claimed thousands of lives, including those of Americans. Providing any justification or rationalization for this is outrageous, immoral, illegal, and unacceptable. Ending this moral obfuscation may pave the road to peace. Ignoring it will eternalize the current impasse and encourage more terror.
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