Qadri Abu Bakr, the head of the Palestinian Commission of Detainees and Ex-Detainees Affairs, said on Monday that Israel’s decision to withhold tax and tariff payments it collects for the Palestinian Authority equivalent to the stipends the PA paid last year to Palestinians who attacked Israelis and to the families of Palestinians slain while attacking Israelis is not only illegal, but it will also be ineffective.
The cabinet voted on Sunday to withhold 600 million shekels (approximately $179 million) over the next 12 months under the 2018 “pay for slay” law.
“We will keep supporting the families and will never leave them alone. It’s true there are some financial problems, and that’s why we decreased some salaries to 80%, but we will support the prisoners and their families as long as we can,” Abu Bakr said.
“This money is Palestinian taxes. It belongs to the Palestinians, and no other country in the world would have allowed this situation, which is absolute theft. Israel must transfer this money to the PA immediately. It has no right to it,” he added.
Abu Bakr is the man appointed in the PA to take care of security prisoners and their families.
While Israel sees these people as convicted terrorists, the Palestinian perspective is completely different: They are considered heroes, and support for them is one of the few matters of consensus in Palestinian society.
“They are not terrorists,” Abu Bakr said. “They are people who try to defend themselves, their families, and their property from a brutal occupier. Settlers invade our lands every day, stealing and vandalizing. You cannot call people who resist that ‘terrorists.’”
Israel collects taxes on imports for the Palestinian Authority and taxes on Palestinians working in Israel as part of the Oslo Accords.
Under the 1994 Protocol on Economic Relations, also called the Paris Protocol and incorporated with minor changes into the 1995 Oslo II Accord, Israel retains 25% of the income taxes and 3% of the total revenue as collection and processing fees and is supposed to transfer the bulk of the money to the PA once every few months.
A 2018 law mandates that the Israeli government deducts an amount equal to the PA’s payments to security prisoners and the families of Palestinian attackers from the sum, to pressure the PA into stopping the payments, which Israel says encourage terrorist attacks.
Abu Bakr also referred to the importance of the money for the PA, saying it is a “significant portion” of its budget. This situation must be resolved to allow the PA to continue functioning, he added.
“We need any help we can get. From Europe and from the U.S. This issue must be resolved, and the money should be given back to the Palestinian people,” he said.
Sources close to the matter in Israel said that there are talks with the Palestinians regarding the issue, as officials in Israel believe it is in Israel’s interest to keep the PA strong and functioning.
“It’s a technical step only, following the 2018 law,” said Roy Cohavi, an Israeli lawyer specializing in terrorism-related cases and lawsuits. In an interview, he outlined why the measure won’t have a significant effect on the Palestinian payment policy.
“First of all, this is about half of the actual sum of money used to pay convicted terrorists. Second, the Palestinians say loud and clear that they’ll keep making the payments. And third, the Defense Ministry is trying to keep the PA alive, so I assume they’ll find ways to transfer the money. We’ve seen that in the past,” Cohavi said.
Cohavi disagrees with Abu Bakr on the legality of the deductions.
“It’s true that Israel committed to transfer the money, but what the PA is doing in supporting terror − and as opposed to what people say, I know they are fully supportive of terror − is a basic breach of the agreement. Israel wouldn’t have signed the contract [the Paris Protocol] had it known what the PA is going to do with that money,” he said.
“Personally, I believe Israel has not only a legal justification but a moral obligation to suspend this money. It’s far from doing enough to thwart terror, but it’s something,” Cohavi added.
The story is written by Adi Koplewitz and reprinted with permission from The Media Line.