Institute for Contemporary Affairs
Founded jointly with the Wechsler Family Foundation
- The money promised by Defense Minister Gantz as a “loan” to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas is a circuitous deal that makes Israel’s protests about the PA paying terrorists’ salaries ridiculous in the eyes of the world and Israeli law.
- The fear that the Palestinian Authority will collapse without financial assistance is, at best, an exaggeration.
- Has Israel volunteered to solve the legal problem that prevents Americans from pumping aid into the Palestinian Authority?
- Israel’s aid to the PA may be intended to appease the U.S. administration, which does not believe that it is possible, in the current circumstances, to promote a political settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, the Biden Administration feels it is important to appear attentive to the Palestinians, unlike its predecessor.
- After Abbas received Israel’s pledge to help him financially and he hosted Defense Minister Gantz, Abbas used his annual address to the UN General Assembly to slander Israel. He called it a racist state that conducts ethnic cleansing, admitted that Palestinian textbooks promote the hostile Palestinian narrative against Israel, and insisted that he will continue to pay salaries to arrested terrorists and to the families of deceased terrorists.
Following the Gantz-Abbas meeting on August 29, 2021, the Israeli government still considered the transfer of half a billion shekels, ostensibly as an advance/loan to the Palestinian Authority for tax and customs money that Israel collects for it. At the same time, Israel is belatedly implementing the freeze of funds paid by the PA for salaries to terrorists from the taxes and tariffs that Israel transfers to the PA. To little surprise, the frozen sum is similar to the amount of the “loan” to the PA – about NIS 600 million a year, or NIS 50 million each month. This amount does not reflect the total payments to the incarcerated and released terrorists and the families of the deceased terrorists, but rather the amount that Israel can confirm with certainty, that the PA paid to the terrorists and their families in the previous year. In other words, virtually the entire sum frozen will be transferred to the PA through another route.
This move ridicules the Israeli protests over the payment of salaries to terrorists as well as Israeli law, which requires government action against the PA. It insists on paying these salaries to all imprisoned and released terrorists under a Palestinian law that defines these terrorists as the “fighting sector of Palestinian society.” It is not enough that we Israelis mock ourselves since we have apparently determined that our supreme interest is to strengthen the PA, regardless of its actions and conduct. We have severely impaired our ability to demand that the PA cease its indecent and vile practices that encourage the hatred of Israel and incite terrorism by paying salaries to terrorists, public statements, glorification of terrorism, school curriculums, and other means. In addition, our ability is weakened to influence international parties who can demand of the PA ending this policy and halting the undermining Israel’s legitimacy in the international arena, including at the Criminal Court in The Hague.
To justify the meeting and the transfer of money, many claims are made, most of them unfounded. For example, it is alleged that the PA may collapse due to the severe economic crisis by which it is plagued, mainly due to the negative impact on its cash flow. This is due to the cessation of Arab and international aid, and Israel’s putative measures. Also raised is the argument that Israel is required to support the PA’s Abbas, following Hamas’ strategic achievements in the Guardian of the Wall Operation and its growing stature in the Palestinian political sphere. These, coupled with the damage to Abbas’ prestige and status following the Abraham Accords, the cancellation of parliamentary and presidential elections, and the death of opposition activist Nizar Benat after his arrest by the PA, have all destabilized the PA and strengthened Hamas. The argument demands that Israel reinforce Mahmoud Abbas so that he can deal with the threats to his regime. There is also a claim that Abbas opposes anti-Israel terrorism and that cooperation with the PA’s security forces is essential to curbing terrorism from the Palestinian-controlled territories. These statements, usually attributed to members of the security establishment and international entities, are heard so frequently that it seems that they are indisputable certainties.
The Reality Is Very Different
In practice, Mahmoud Abbas leads the ideological and political campaign against Israel and does not rule out the use of violence of any kind in this context. He guarantees any terrorist imprisoned for his activities a much larger salary than he would receive in any other job, and the salary increases during the years of his/her imprisonment. Thus, the more serious the attack and the sentence, the more money received. Abbas also guarantees that terrorists imprisoned for more than five years will be given a position in the Palestinian Authority, and time served will be considered for seniority purposes. In some cases, released terrorists are absorbed into the security apparatus. Abbas is decisive and determined to continue paying the salaries of terrorists at all costs out of his belief that terrorists are heroes, and his admiration is expressed in his meetings with their families.
On June 29-30, 2021, an academic conference was held at the Open Quds University in Ramallah under the title, “The Zionist Narrative – Between Reversal and Cancellation.” The conference was sponsored by Mahmoud Abbas, who opened it with a recorded speech in which he proudly noted that international public opinion had recently undergone a gradual shift toward accepting the Palestinian narrative. Abbas is one of his most prominent designers and promoters of this narrative, and the other speakers at the conference, including PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayeh, echoed his remarks.
According to the outlandish and antisemitic Abbas/Palestinian narrative, the Jews are nothing but a religious group, not a people, and have never had sovereignty over Palestine. There is no such thing as the “Land of Israel,” and the Jews never had a temple on what they call the “Temple Mount,” which is known to Arabs as “Al-Haram al-Sharif,” and therefore, the Jews have no right to self-determination and certainly not in Palestine. Moreover, Ashkenazi Jews are descendants of the Khazars and have nothing to do with the Jews who lived in Palestine until 2,000 years ago. On the other hand, Abbas argues, the Palestinian people are the ancient people who lived in the land, since the Palestinians are descendants of the Canaanites and the other peoples who lived there before the arrival of the Israelites. Zionism is the cruel and villainous creation of the colonialists and imperialists who sought to dispose of the Jews because of their intolerable qualities and use them as a bridgehead in their fight against Muslims. Zionism collaborated with the Nazis in an effort to persuade Jews to immigrate to Palestine and adopted Nazi characteristics themselves over time, according to Abbas.
The inevitable end will be the return of the Jews to the places from where they came, the Palestinian position states. This goal will be achieved through a multi-dimensional struggle, which also includes violent struggles. All types of violence are morally justified, but out of considerations of which actions are more cost-effective, Mahmoud Abbas believes that after the Oslo Accords, and especially after the second intifada, one should focus on what he calls “popular resistance.” This refers to violence that is not from firearms but includes stone-throwing, Molotov cocktails, and at times even stabbings and vehicular attacks. Hamas, on the other hand, believes that there is a need for attacks using firearms in Judea and Samaria (a planned attack of this kind was recently thwarted) and sometimes from the Gaza Strip, but it also uses “softer” terrorism from the Gaza Strip in the form of launching incendiary balloons and encouraging riots along the fence.
According to this narrative, the Palestinians are the only victims of the conflict and must perpetuate their suffering by the continuation of the nakba and refugees’ narratives until all their goals are achieved. To this end, they have the right to use all forms of struggle, and no one, certainly not Israel and the West, who are responsible for their suffering, have the right to criticize them for their support of terrorism. The narrative also emphasizes that the Palestinian struggle is national and Islamic at the same time and ultimately states that in light of all this, all of Palestine is included, and Israel should not be recognized in any way as the nation-state of the Jewish people, which, at any rate, does not exist. At most, it is possible to temporarily accept the existence of an “Israeli people” which is a new concept referring to Israel as the state of all its citizens.
After Abbas received the Israeli pledge to help him financially and hosted Defense Minister Gantz, he used his annual address to the UN General Assembly to slander Israel, called it a racist state that conducts ethnic cleansing and violates international law. He emphasized the “Israeli massacres” and crimes from 1948 and the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their properties inside Israel, admitted that Palestinian textbooks are promoting the hostile Palestinian narrative against Israel, and insisted that he will keep paying salaries to arrested terrorists and to the families of deceased terrorists. Moreover, shortly before he hosted a delegation from Israel’s Meretz Party that included two Israeli ministers, he consoled the families of two Palestinian terrorists who were killed by the IDF as they prepared to carry out attacks.
This is the worldview of Gantz’s interlocutor. He is willing to continue security cooperation with Israel because the attempt to curb Hamas’ actions serves his political interests, but he is willing to cooperate with Hamas when it is convenient for him, as well.
The fear of the collapse of the PA due to its plight is exaggerated as long as Mahmoud Abbas rules. Although the PA is in political distress – more than in economic distress – it has already endured much worse crises and times of distress, and it has not collapsed. Last year, during the Covid-19 crisis, the Palestinian Authority, on its own initiative, stopped receiving taxes from Israel and halted the security cooperation. Nevertheless, the PA continued to function, and the scope of terrorism did not rise. This is due in part to the fact that the bulk of counterterrorism operations are run by the Israeli security organizations. The Palestinian contribution is secondary. Also today, the PA is able, contrary to American warnings, to function even without the promised Israeli assistance. If the PA feels genuine distress, it can, of course, stop paying salaries to terrorists and stop budgeting the effort to prosecute Israel’s top echelons in the International Criminal Court.
Financial Rewards to the Palestinian Authority Is Unwise
However, Gantz reportedly did not ask for any quid pro quo for the loan and meeting additional Palestinian requests. He exposed the government’s weakness with the Palestinians and was acting contrary to the spirit of Israeli law, since it is clear that the Israeli aid will inevitably lead to the continued payment of the salaries to terrorists, terrorism against Israelis, and rejection of the Zionist narrative without jeopardizing its position. Worse, despite the PA’s satisfaction with Israel’s steps, they will not necessarily yield the desired results. Mahmoud Abbas and the security forces will be assaulted and presented as collaborators with the “occupation.” To deal with the criticism, they may refrain from restraining the clashes at the friction locations.
The explanation for this is not only that the Israeli security system and its head, for some reason, adhere to the belief that an agreement must be reached with the PA with Israeli security concessions and also ignore the Palestinian Authority’s worldview and objectives. The deeper reason is that they attach great importance to the de-escalation of violence in Judea and Samaria, in the short term, and believe that the best way to ensure this is by improving the economic situation. Even if this belief is true (and there is no factual verification), it does not have to be realized by transfer of money to the Authority in order to finance payments to terrorists. For example, it is possible to increase the number of Palestinian work permits into Israel. This is the main economic engine of the economy in the West Bank and is consistent with the accurate assessment that the Palestinians’ desire to improve their quality of life. It is just as important as their commitment to the Palestinian struggle against Zionism.
Chaining Israeli policy to the goal of achieving a short-term quiet will impair Israel’s ability to deal with the Palestinian effort, led by Mahmoud Abbas, while he spreads the Palestinian narrative at home (through incitement) and in the international system (through the campaign to delegitimize Israel). Already, the Palestinians have achievements on the American left: the set of concepts they are trying to instill in the international system (Israel is a racist and colonial apartheid state that illegally occupies Palestinian territory) has been implanted into broad circles of the Western left and threatens to seep into the center of the political map. This is a threat for which Israel must prepare. Tolerating Palestinian incitement in order to strengthen Mahmoud Abbas and gain some quiet is detrimental to this struggle. Quiet can and should be achieved in the short term by other means.
Another compelling explanation is that the agreement to aid the Palestinians was intended to please the American administration, which does not believe it is possible in the current circumstances to promote a political settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, the U.S. administration believes it is important to appear attentive to the Palestinians, unlike its predecessor, and has come to their aid by preserving the viability of the two-state concept and improving their quality of life. The administration is also convinced that the PA is suffering from an unprecedented financial crisis, but it is unable to transfer U.S. aid because of U.S. legal restrictions, as long as the Authority continues to pay salaries to terrorists and their families. The administration’s attempts to circumvent the law have been blocked by members of Congress. It seems that Israel was asked at the meeting between Biden and Bennett to solve the problem. If Israel had received from the Americans a significant incentive in other areas that are important to its security, then this may justify Gantz’ strange move. However, if Israel received little in return, no more than gratitude and appreciation, it is inadequate compensation.