The Palestinian Authority Is Still Paying Terrorists | Opinion

With a new U.S. administration taking power, things might be rapidly changing for the Palestinian Authority, the entity that rules over the West Bank. In November, then-senator Kamala Harris promised that the Biden presidency would "restore economic and humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people" and "reopen the U.S. consulate in East Jerusalem and work to reopen the PLO mission in Washington." But the PA itself doesn't seem to be changing. Indeed, Palestinian leaders are still paying salaries to those who carry out terrorist attacks.

The PA has long incentivized violence with the infamous "pay to slay" program. Perversely, the program is even enshrined in its laws.

In 2004, the PA passed a law that guaranteed salaries for convicted terrorists and their families. The legislation specified that "prisoners and released prisoners are a fighting sector and integral part of the fabric of Arab Palestinian society." In 2010, the PA passed a series of resolutions stipulating that every Palestinian inmate in an Israeli prison who is convicted of a "terrorism-related offense" is to receive a monthly payment. In 2013, the PA's prime minister at the time, Rami Hamdallah, amended the law, offering additional benefits to prisoners upon their release. For example, any male ex-prisoner who was incarcerated for 10 or more years, and every female ex-prisoner who served five years, is entitled to a position in the PA.

In gruesome fashion, the payments increase depending on the severity of the crime. The more innocent blood spilled, the more the PA pays.

Some commentators have sought to portray the payments as "social support" that is "provided to all Palestinian families." A December 2020 report by the Brookings Institution even blamed Israel as "the central culprit" behind the PA's policy. Yet in addition to marking the payments specifically for the so-called fighting sector, the PA even treats the payments as salaries by withholding tax on them. Reports from the PA's own Ministry of Public Affairs show that many of the recipients are single.

Defenders of the PA often omit the fact that "pay to slay" explicitly violates the terms of the Oslo Accords that created the authority in the first place. As part of the Olso peace process, the head of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), Yasser Arafat, swore that the PLO "renounces the use of terrorism and other acts of violence and will assume responsibility over all PLO elements and personnel in order to assure their compliance." In exchange for promises of peace, the U.S, Israel and international donors created and funded the PA with Arafat as its head.

Mahmoud Abbas
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during the 74th United Nations General Assembly at the United Nations on September 26, 2019 in New York City. Abbas was expected to renew his pledge to hold parliamentary elections once he returns home, though he has made similar pledges in recent years. Palestinians last held elections in 2006. Stephanie Keith/Getty

In 2018, the United States Congress passed the Taylor Force Act, which ended U.S. aid to the PA unless the latter ceased paying stipends to terrorists and their families. The legislation is named after Taylor Force, a 28-year-old U.S. Army vet who was stabbed to death by a Palestinian terrorist while he was visiting Israel for his MBA program. Force's murder helped galvanize efforts to penalize the PA and end "pay to slay." In 2019, Israel enacted its own version of the Taylor Force Act, which deducted the amount that the PA pays to terrorists from tax revenues that the Jewish state collects and transfers to the authority.

Yet, the PA has been unbowed.

In a Sept. 26, 2019 speech before the U.N. General Assembly, PA president Mahmoud Abbas declared, "Even if I had only one penny, I would've given it to the families of the martyrs, prisoners and heroes." Abbas's boast of paying people to murder Jews was met with applause. And the PA's actions match his words. In the first five months of 2019 alone, the PA paid terrorists and their families $66 million—an 11.8 percent increase from the previous year.

Abbas has also tried to hide the "pay to slay" program. As journalist Donna Rachel Edmunds observed in May 2020, "monthly budget documents prepared by the Palestinian Authority for 2020 show that it is attempting to hide the salaries that it pays to terrorists from international donors, making a sham of its commitment to financial transparency." Edmunds cited research from Palestinian Media Watch, which found that "the PA is diverting the payments through the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), a trick it has used in the past."

Indeed, as AFP reported in June 2020, Abbas ordered his security services to destroy "secret documents, fearing possible Israeli raids on their offices." The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis noted at the time that the PA might have had the past in mind. An Israeli raid in September 2000 resulted in the seizure of PA and PLO documents which showed that "senior Palestinian Authority officers were actively involved in terrorism, providing logistical and financial assistance" to other terrorist groups.

There is no evidence that the PA, facing a new U.S. administration, intends to reduce its support for terror. In January 2021, the authority announced that it was creating the "Alive and Provided For" initiative, which plants trees in honor of terrorists. Jibril Rajoub, a prominent PA official and possible successor to Abbas, declared, "these martyrs are the most sacred thing that we have."

Policymakers and press alike should take note.

Sean Durns is a Senior Research Analyst for the 65,000-member, Boston-based Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.