Israel will continue its widespread operation in the West Bank in search of Gil-Ad Shaer, Eyal Yifrah and Naftali Fraenkel, and will consider ways to prevent the Palestinian Authority from transferring funds to jailed terrorists, the security cabinet decided Wednesday.
The security cabinet has met regularly since the three teens were kidnapped and Operation Brother’s Keeper launched nearly two weeks ago, occasionally rolling out measures aimed at placing pressure on Hamas and at sending a message that kidnapping Israelis to swap for Palestinian prisoners no longer pays.
Toward that end, the security cabinet has over the last week decided to worsen the prison conditions for Hamas prisoners, rearrest many of the prisoners released in the swap for Gilad Schalit three years ago now living in the West Bank, and begin demolishing the homes of terrorists.
One of the reasons for renewing the controversial policy of home demolitions, government officials said, was to counteract the financial inducements the Palestinian Authority provides terrorists. Each month the financially strapped PA spends tens of millions of shekels paying salaries to prisoners, as well as support payments to families of suicide bombers.
One official pointed out earlier this week that when the kidnappers of the Israeli teens are caught, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas – who has condemned the kidnappings – will then pay them and their families salaries far beyond what a Palestinian Authority security officer earns.
In recent days, Economy Minister Naftali Bennett has advocated seizing the funds that are earmarked for the salaries of terrorists and as payment to their families.
Bennett, on his Facebook page, wrote that the PA does not just pay the terrorists, but “they pay well.”
“The more you murder, the more time you are sitting in prison, the more money you receive,” he wrote.
According to his figures, a terrorist serving five to 10 years in prison receives NIS 4,000 a month, a terrorist serving 10-15 years earns NIS 6,000 a month, and someone serving 25-30 years earns NIS 10,000 a month.
“The biggest terrorists, the most brutal killers, such as Marwan Barghouti, who are sentenced to more than 30 years – they are getting NIS 12,000 per month,” he wrote.
The Prime Minister’s Office provided no details on what practical measures are being considered to fight this phenomenon, but one idea that has arisen in the past has been to deduct the monthly budget to pay these salaries from the duties Israel collects for the PA and transfers to it each month.
The security cabinet was marred by a spat between Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Bennett on Wednesday over whether Bennett’s party colleague, Construction and Housing Minister Uri Ariel, could take part in the deliberations. Bennett brought Ariel to the meeting, even though he is not a member of the forum.
When Netanyahu told Bennett that Ariel will have to leave, Bennett replied that Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz (Likud) and Science and Technology Minister Yaakov Peri (Yesh Atid) take part in the deliberations, even though they are not members.
Netanyahu replied that their participation is coordinated in advance, after which Ariel left the room – accompanied by Bennett.
A few minutes later, Bennett returned to the meeting.
The fate of the kidnapped youths, as well as the situation that has developed in the West Bank as a result of Operation Brother’s Keeper, is expected to be the focus of talks in Paris Thursday between Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman and US Secretary of State John Kerry, as well as a discussion that Liberman is scheduled to hold with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius.
This will be Kerry’s first face-toface meeting with Liberman since the end of March, when the Israeli- Palestinian talks he pushed fell apart with the announcement of a Fatah-Hamas unity pact.
In addition to discussing the Palestinian issue, Liberman is also expected to talk with his counterparts about the rapidly changing situation in Iraq and Syria.
In a related development, the Cyprus Mail – citing a Cypriot government statement – reported Wednesday that Netanyahu will be visiting Nicosia in the near future.
A source in the Prime Minister’s Office said that no date has been set for a visit. Netanyahu last visited Cyprus, geographically the closest EU country to Israel, in 2012.