“I want to make it clear to the government ministries,” said committee chairman Avi Dichter (Likud), who cosponsored Stern’s bill. “As long the PA pays for terrorism, and as long as their money goes through us, we as the Knesset and as the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee cannot ignore it.”
Stern’s bill calls to dock the taxes and tariffs that Israel collects for the PA by the amount the authority pays to terrorists and their families. The Defense Ministry bill, expected to be brought to the Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Sunday, has cutting the funds as the default option, but gives the Security Cabinet the additional options of freezing them and paying later, or not to deduct at all, “for special reasons of national security and international relations.”
“Why does the government want flexibility [to deduct] zero to 100, all or nothing?” Dichter said. “We want to send a message that we will not be a conduit for funding terrorism.”
In either case, the amount deducted will go into a fund to help families of victims of terrorism.
The PA paid terrorists and their families over $347 million in 2017. Terrorists sentenced to three to five years in Israeli prisons receive the average income of a Palestinian, $580 per month, while those who committed more severe crimes and were likely involved in killing Israelis receive five times the average per month for the rest of their lives.
“The blood of the innocent cries out to us – we must change this disgraceful and dangerous policy,” Stern said. “Now is the time to end it.”
MKs argued that the Defense Ministry proposal allows the current situation to continue in that there remains a chance for the PA to receive all of the tax money even as it continues to pay salaries to those who murdered Israelis. They therefore supported Stern’s bill, which does not include that option.
The Defense Ministry, however, argued that its bill gives the government more flexibility, and requires the Security Cabinet to discuss the PA’s funding for terrorists each month and give a reason for whatever decision it makes.
Roni Peled, head of intelligence at the National Security Council, warned that the flexibility is needed where cutting the funds could lead to the PA’s dissolution. Foreign Ministry representative Chaim Regev argued that having more options will allow Israel to defend itself if there is international pressure over the deductions.
Maurice Hirsch of Palestinian Media Watch suggested a compromise, by which the government bill would require at least half of the funds going to terrorists be cut, and that there would be conditions – like not paying terrorists – for transferring the other half.
As for the argument that cutting tax money to the PA would cause a humanitarian problem, Hirsch said: “We need to remember, this is money that only goes to funding terrorism, and nothing else, because that’s what it’s meant for. It’s wasted money.”
Shai Maimon, who was injured in a terrorist attack in 2015 in which his friend, Malachi Rosenfeld, was murdered, warned that if the money is not deducted more Israelis will be killed.
“If you need proof, look at my case, in which the terrorist bought his gun with money from the [PA] Prisoners Ministry. He says it himself,” Maimon said. “It’s not logical that the government of Israel... for 30 years has been giving money to terrorists. It’s 2018, and only now we’re starting to deal with this. Does that make sense?”
Maimon is working with a coalition of organizations that help victims of terrorism in a newly launched campaign called “Stop Being Suckers” in support of Stern’s bill.
Behind the campaign are the Koby Mandell Foundation, the Forum of Bereaved Families, the Choosing Life Forum, the Forum of American Victims of Palestinian Terror, and individual victims of terrorism and their families.
“It is unconscionable that Israel supports terrorism through the collection and transfer of more than NIS 1 billion each year to the PA that is being used as a reward and incentive for the murder of Israeli citizens,” Maimon said.
A vote on Stern’s bill was postponed because the committee found its definition of a terrorist lacking in that it did not fit all the relevant situations, but Dichter said the technical issues will be resolved within a week.
Stern’s bill was inspired by the US Taylor Force Act, legislation written by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) that would stop all US aid to the Palestinians as long as they pay salaries to terrorists and their families. The bill, named after the American victim of Palestinian terrorism, passed the House of Representatives in December and is awaiting Senate approval.