Almost all of Israel’s security and intelligence agencies are opposed to proposed Knesset legislation that would cut off tax transfers to the Palestinian Authority due to its payment of salaries to terrorists imprisoned in Israel, a senior cabinet source told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.
According to the source, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories unit, the IDF, the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and other security bodies are opposed to the measure, fearing that a cut to PA funding will lead to an escalation in terrorist attacks.
“Here’s a recent example,” he said.
“When the PA couldn’t pay its teachers, they went on strike, and kids were on the streets, and there was an escalation in the ‘stabbing intifada.’ There are many, many examples like that.”
The bill in question, proposed by MK Elazar Stern (Yesh Atid), calls to cut the tax transfers by 7%, in correspondence with a PA law that 7% of its budget must go to the terrorist payments. Unlike a security cabinet decision made in July 2016 to dock payments, this would remain in effect for as long as the PA continues to pay terrorists and, because it is a law, would be more difficult to reverse.
Despite the defense establishment’s opposition to the bill, it has received broad support from across the political spectrum. And yet, it seems that the proposal to dock tax payments Israel transfers to the PA – which are about 40% of its budget – will not have an easy time passing.
Stern shrugged off the claims of danger if the PA loses funds: “I’ve heard that, but most people I talked to think this is important anyway.”
The initiative has co-sponsors from every party in the coalition, plus Yesh Atid and the Zionist Union in the opposition. Stern was also proud to point out that among its signatories are two former Shin Bet chiefs, two former major-generals – including Stern himself – a brigadier-general and a police assistant-chief.
“With this list behind it, it’s clear that this is something serious,” he said.
The first step in passing the bill, a vote in the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, is still several weeks away, and Stern is putting some finishing touches on it in the meantime, but he’s taking Netanyahu’s many public statements on the subject of terrorists’ salaries as a good sign of its chances.
National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Minister Yuval Steinitz also had only good things to say about cutting funds to the Palestinians.
When he was finance minister, he briefly stopped the tax transfers to the PA, and as strategic affairs minister he focused much of his energy on Palestinian incitement.
“I think it’s outrageous and unbelievable that the Palestinian Authority gives monetary incentives to terrorists,” Steinitz said this week. “It’s simply hypocrisy that they talk to the US about wanting peace, and give a monthly salary, a monetary prize, to terrorists who murdered. I hope [Stern’s bill and a similar version in the US, the Taylor Force Act], can stop it.
“It’s a very good idea to subtract that amount: If you pay X to terrorists, we will take it out of the tax money,” he said.
The argument that the PA could collapse or that cutting funds could be otherwise dangerous is “always the defense of the weak, that if you press them, they’ll fall apart,” Steinitz said. “This is part of a broader issue with the PA. In the US, they [PA officials] talk about peace and coexistence, but here, they educate their children from preschool that Israel needs to disappear from the map... and that Jews are horrible creatures that need to be cleaned out of Palestine...
And then people tell us to ignore it, as if we can make peace with them while they do that.”
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said, in an address to the Hudson Institute think tank in Washington on Wednesday, that she would be grateful if the US would pass the Taylor Force Act, proposed by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), which would cut all aid to the PA as long as it pays salaries to terrorists or to their families. Shaked said American pressure will leave the PA with no choice but to stop the practice, The Washington Free Beacon reported.
“We have tried many times to block the transferring of money, but I think that we definitely need your help,” she said.
Yisrael Beytenu faction chairman Robert Ilatov is a co-sponsor of Stern’s bill, giving a good idea of where Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman stands. Ilatov said it is the party’s position to support cutting funds that the PA will transfer to terrorists.
“Israel can’t encourage terrorism.
If we know that the PA pays those who engage in terrorism against Israel and we allow it, then we’re encouraging terrorism,” he said in the Knesset on Tuesday. “I think either Stern’s bill will pass or a government version of it will.”
Asked about the warnings that cutting funds could be dangerous, Ilatov said, “Abbas is irrelevant,” because he was elected over a decade ago and no election has been held since.
“When he’s reelected, we’ll take him into consideration,” the MK quipped.
As for the awkward situation that could be caused if the coalition ends up voting against a bill meant to solve the very problem the prime minister has been publicly lamenting, Stern said his bill is not meant to embarrass anyone.
“This isn’t about the coalition or opposition,” he said.
“This has totally patriotic intentions. I’m not going for political gain. My considerations are national and responsible, not political.”
Still, it’s hard to see how his bill could not put the coalition on a collision course between its statements and its security concerns.