Palestinian Authority Financing of Terrorism
Though the Palestinians have repeatedly pledged to end terrorism and incitement – Yasser Arafat’s renunciation of terror was a prerequisite to the Oslo negotiations – the Palestinian Authority provides generous financial payments to terrorists and their families, creating incentives to attack Israelis.
According to laws passed in 2004 and amended in 2013, Palestinians and Israeli Arabs who are convicted of terrorism are entitled to monthly stipends. Men who have served at least five years in Israeli jails, and women who served at least two, are entitled to these “salaries” for life. Those imprisoned for three to five years receive $570 per month. Someone sentenced to 30 years or more is entitled to $3,400 per month. The more heinous the crime, the more money a prisoner receives. The government also provides health insurance and tuition for prisoners as well as their spouses and children. Families of terrorists who have died or were wounded receive $1,560 plus monthly checks for at least $364. Members of PLO factions arrested outside of “Palestine” are also entitled to benefits. Israeli Arabs and Arab residents of Jerusalem receive bonuses.
Once released, prisoners are given priority for employment. Any male ex-prisoner incarcerated for ten or more years and female who served five years is entitled to a position in the PA. All former prisoners’ social security and pension fees are paid according to the number of years they spent in jail. If their salary is lower than what they received in prison, the PA makes up the difference and if a prisoner cannot be employed, they are still entitled to a monthly salary, disability payments, and death benefits payable to their families (Douglas J. Feith & Sander Gerber, “The Department of Pay-for-Slay,” Commentary, March 15, 2017; Thane Rosenbaum, “Palestinians are rewarding terrorists. The U.S. should stop enabling them,” Washington Post, April 30, 2017).
No Shortage of Funds for Terrorists
The PA, which has been in dire financial straits, and is completely dependent on foreign aid for its survival, spends roughly $140 million on payments to terrorists who are in jail or have been released. In 2016, more than 32,500 martyrs’ families received payments of approximately $175 million. The figure for 2017 was $347 million, constituting roughly 7% of the PA budget. On March 4, 2018, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas approved the PA’s 2018 budget of approximately $5 billion. Roughly 7% of the budget (approximately $360 million) is allocated to two institutions that assist terrorists imprisoned in Israel, released terrorists, and families of “martyrs.” The institutions are the Commission of Detainees and Ex-Detainees Affairs and the Fund for Families of Martyrs and the Injured.
The United States and some European countries have realized they are underwriting this “pay-for-slay” policy and called on Mahmoud Abbas to cease these payments. During their meeting in Bethlehem on May 23, 2017, President Donald Trump told Abbas to end the program, reiterating the demand he had made in their May 3 meeting at the White House (Nathan Guttman, “How Payments To Terrorists Became An Issue At The Trump-Abbas Meeting,” Forward, May 4, 2017; Jack Moore, “Trump Raged At Palestinian Leader Mahmoud Abbas In Bethlehem Meeting: ‘You Lied To Me,’” Newsweek, May 29, 2017).
On June 13, 2017, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told senators that pressure from the president led the PA to change its policy. Palestinian officials, however, quickly denied Tillerson’s claim. “There is no end to the payments” of Palestinian prisoners, declared Issa Karake, head of the Palestinian Committee of Prisoners’ Affairs. “We reject ending the subsidies to the prisoners and families of martyrs. We will not apologize for it” (Dov Lieber, “Defying US, Palestinian official vows payments to terrorists will continue,” Times of Israel, June 14, 2017).
Abbas Rejects Trump Demands
According to Karake, Abbas told Trump he would not “stop the allowances of the families of the prisoners and Martyrs (Shahids), and emphasized his absolute support for them (i.e., for the payments).” Other Palestinian officials made similar comments (Itamar Marcus and Nan Jacques Zilberdik, “Did the PA lie to the US Secretary of State?” Palestinian Media Watch, June 14, 2017).
Following the Palestinian statements, Tillerson modified his testimony before a House committee on June 14, 2017, saying the United States was engaged in an “active discussion” on the payments and that “we’ve taken the position to the Palestinian Authority in a very unequivocal way.” Tillerson said he told the Palestinians, “You either take care of this yourself or someone else will take care of it for you” (Eric Cortellessa, “Tillerson waters down statement that Palestinians ‘changed policy’ of terror payments,” Times of Israel, June 14, 2017).
In a meeting with Palestinian officials on June 20, 2017, Trump’s envoy Jason Greenblatt reiterated the demand that the Palestinians cease payments to the so-called Martyr’s Fund. A Palestinian official said the meeting did not go well, and the request was rejected (
Kushner kicks off Mideast peace push with first solo visit, Associated Press, June 21, 2017).
Abbas, however, not only refuses to halt the stipends to terrorists, he has increased the amount allotted to them and their families in 2018 by nearly $56 million (Itamar Marcus, “PA defies US, will raise payments to Martyrs’ families,” Palestinian Media Watch, April 9, 2017; “Abbas will continue to pay Palestinian prisoners, PA minister says,” Times of Israel, April 29, 2017; Lahav Harkov, “Palestinians Increase Payments To Terrorists To $403 Million,” Jerusalem Post, March 6, 2018).
The Taylor Force Act
Angered by the Palestinians’ use of American tax dollars to fund terror attacks that have killed Americans as well as Israelis, Congress passed legislation to cut U.S. funding to the Palestinian Authority – now approximately $400 million annually – if it continues the “pay-for-slay” policy. The Taylor Force Act is named for Taylor Force, an American Army veteran who was stabbed to death by a Palestinian terrorist in Jaffa. The bill was signed into law on March 23, 2018.
Israel will deduct the amount of money that the Palestinian Authority gives to terrorists and their families from the taxes and tariffs Israel collects for the authority after the Knesset passed the Anti-“Pay for Slay” bill into law on July 2, 2018 (Gil Hoffman, “Historic Anti-Pay For Slay Bill Passes Into Law,” Jerusalem Post, July 2, 2018).
The government of Australia also stopped giving direct aid to the Palestinian Authority due to concerns that the money is being used to pay Palestinian terrorists and their families (“Australia ends direct aid to Palestinian Authority, citing payments to terrorists,” JTA, July 2, 2018).
Undeterred by the criticism, the PA has continued to pay terrorists. In July 2018, for example, a Palestinian terrorist who murdered a 31-year-old Israeli and wounded two other people was designated as a “martyr,” making him eligible for a one-time grant and a monthly salary (Shiri Moshe, “Family of Palestinian Who Killed Israeli Father Expected to Receive $1,600 Grant, Monthly Salary as Reward,” theAlgemeiner, July 31, 2018).
Israel Adopts Anti-“Pay-for-Slay” Law
In February 2019, Israel implemented one part of the 2018 anti-“Pay-for-Slay” law and started to deduct the sum the PA spent in 2018 paying salaries to terrorist prisoners and released prisoners from the 2019 tax revenues Israel collects and transfers to the PA. Abbas subsequently said he would refuse to accept any of the money “if Israel deducts even one penny from it.”
Abbas may have expected the international community to make up for the shortfall and pressure Israel to reverse its position, but this did not happen. For example, EU Commissioner for European Neighborhood Policy & Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn said, “We are all aware of the fiscal crisis the PA is facing and of the potential human, social and security consequences...At the same time, we do not support the system of Palestinian payments to ‘prisoners and martyrs.’”
As the negative impact of losing tens of millions of dollars in revenue became clear, Abbas agreed in August 2019 to accept two billion shekels and, in October, another 1.5 billion shekels (Maurice Hirsch and Itamar Marcus, “PA capitulates to Israel’s anti-‘Pay-for-Slay’ law,” PMW, October 6, 2019).
Despite the economic hardship, the PA distributed approximately $148 million to prisoners in 2019, a 3% increase from 2018. The overall expenditures of the PA ministry for prisoners and released prisoners amounted to approximately $173 million (Yossi Kuperwasser, “If the PA Lacks Funds to Combat the Coronavirus, It Should Stop Paying Salaries to Terrorists,” JCPA, March 27, 2020).
According to the Director of the Commission of Prisoners and Released Prisoners’ Affairs, Qadri Abu Bakr, a prisoner can receive a prisoner’s salary after their release and do nothing. He said, “We have 7,000-8,000 released prisoners who are receiving a salary like this.”
Though idle, they still qualify for benefits. “Every prisoner who is released after a year is eligible to study at university and also carpentry, metalworking, and the like,” said Abu Bakr. “Any profession that we can cover for him. We are also covering dental treatment up to 5,000 [Israeli] shekels. We cover implants.”
The Palestinians were upset when the International Criminal Court released a report in October 2020 by the chief prosecutor that warned that Palestinian stipends to attackers and their families could constitute a war crime (“Palestinians outraged over ICC report into war crimes,” Al Arabiya, October 14, 2020).
News reports suggested the Palestinians were considering changing their policy to win favor with the incoming Biden administration; however, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh said on November 17, 2020, “We will continue to pay aid to the families of martyrs and prisoners to ensure a decent life for their families, and we will not abandon them” (WAFA, November 17, 2020).
To avoid scrutiny, the PA has been trying to hide expenditures to terrorists under different budget categories. According to Palestinian Media Watch (PMW):
PMW examined PA financial reports and determined that at least $159 million was transferred to terrorists and their families in 2020. This was 3.25% of the PA’s total budget (Maurice Hirsch, Itamar Marcus, and Nan Jacques Zilberdik, “How much did the PA spend on terrorists' salaries in 2020?” PMW, February 22, 2021).
PMW underestimated the payments. PLO Commissioner for Prisoners’ Affairs Qadri Abu Bakr said the PA spends around $15 million per month on salaries and the total was close to $181 million for 2020. Abu Bakr said 7,500 released Palestinian prisoners receive payments, as do 4,500 who are still incarcerated.
To make it more difficult, starting in 2021, Israel imposes sanctions on banks that allow Palestinians to collect payments. The PLO paid the salaries of prisoners three months in advance in late December to get around the sanctions while it explores other options (Aaron Boxerman, “PLO says $15 million per month being paid in terror stipends,” Times of Israel, March 4, 2021).
Following the passage of an Israeli law that would expose them to criminal and civil liability, banks in the PA closed 35,000 bank accounts of imprisoned terrorists, released terrorists and families of dead terrorists. This did not stop the PA from continuing payments. On April 5, 2021, the Commission of Prisoners’ Affairs said the salaries would be paid through the Palestinian post office branches, which recipients complained involved a “humiliating” process (Maurice Hirsch and Itamar Marcus, “PMW caused the closure of 35,000 bank accounts of terrorists,” Palestinian Media Watch, May 5, 2021; “Palestinians complain of ‘humiliating’ wait at [the] post office to collect PA terror stipends,” JNS, June 18, 2021). In July, Israel announced it withhold $180 million in tax revenue it collected on behalf of the PA in 2020, or about 7 percent of the PA’s total tax revenue, to offset payments to terrorists (“Israel to Withhold $180 Million in Palestinian Funds Over Militant Stipends,” Reuters, July 11, 2021).
In 2021, the PA was in dire financial condition as much of the foreign aid it depends on for survival dried up. Nevertheless, the PA still paid roughly $193 million to prisoners and released terrorists and another $78 million to wounded terrorists and the families of dead terrorists. Due to international pressure and scrutiny, the PA tried to conceal the payments by integrating released terrorists into PA ministries, developing a new payment system to circumvent the banks that refuse to provide services to terrorists and manipulating published PA financial reports to mask the payments (Maurice Hirsch, “Three ways the PA tried to hide its terror reward payments in 2021,” Palestinian Media Watch, February 9, 2022).
Israel’s High Court of Justice ruled on April 10, 2022, that the decision to pay convicted Palestinian terrorists and those killed as part of the “struggle against Israel” makes the PA liable for their actions. According to the ruling, however, the PA can only be sued for compensation rather than punitive damages.
Four families who lost loved ones in four separate terror attacks during the Second Intifada had petitioned the court after the Jerusalem District Court rejected their claim. The case will now be returned to the Jerusalem District Court, which will determine the compensation owed to the families by the PA (“High Court: PA liable for terrorism due to money it pays attackers; victims can sue,” Times of Israel, April 10, 2022).
In May 2022, Abbas again reaffirmed his commitment to continue the “Pay-for-Slay” payments (Khaled Abu Toameh, “On ‘Nakba,’ Abbas vows to continue payments to prisoners and ‘martyrs,’” Jerusalem Post, May 15, 2022). At the end of June, the PA reported approximately 4,650 prisoners were held in Israeli jails, the number who have served more than 20 consecutive years had increased from 112 to 233 (Maurice Hirsch, “As Biden meets with Abbas, Abbas raises the salaries of hundreds of terrorists,” Palestinian Media Watch, July 12, 2022).
Israeli citizens Karim and Maher Younis were released from prison in January 2023 after serving 40-year sentences for murdering an Israeli soldier. During their incarceration, they each received nearly $100,000 from the PA (Charles Bybelezer, “Karim and Maher Younis the highest-paid Israeli Arab terrorists, says NGO,” JNS, January 19, 2023).
Testifying before Congress on May 31, 2023. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Barbara Leaf said, “We are working to bring pay-to-slay to an end. Period.” She added, “We abhor prisoner payments, and we have raised these concerns repeatedly to the Palestinian leadership.” When asked if the administration had succeeded, Leaf replied, “not yet.” In response to a question about whether U.S. aid violated the Taylor Force Act, Leaf insisted, “We are fully compliant with the Taylor Force Act. No money goes to the Palestinian authority” (Andrew Bernard, “‘They Are Paying for Terrorists to Murder’: State Department Confirms Palestinians Continue ‘Pay-to-Slay’ Terrorist Payments,” Algemeiner, May 31, 2023).
The PA continues the payments despite running up a huge budget deficit, apparently expecting international donors to make up the difference. The 2023 budget included a deficit of $610 million (Maurice Hirsch, “PA defies the world to continue terror reward payments,” Palestinian Media Watch, April 30, 2023).