PA minister defends payments that US Senators deemed incentives to murder

“This assistance has never encouraged terrorism, the opposite is true” says Palestinian head of the commission for detainees Issa Qaraqe.

Taylor Force, 29, was killed by a Palestinian terrorist who went on a stabbing rampage in Jaffa on March 8, 2016 (photo credit: FACEBOOK)
Taylor Force, 29, was killed by a Palestinian terrorist who went on a stabbing rampage in Jaffa on March 8, 2016
(photo credit: FACEBOOK)
 Monthly payments to families of those imprisoned for attacking Israelis contribute to stability in Palestinian society rather than encourage terrorism, the senior Palestinian official in charge of disbursing them told The Jerusalem Post Sunday.
“This assistance has never encouraged terrorism, the opposite is true,” said Issa Qaraqe, head of the commission for detainees and ex-detainees, who holds the rank of minister in the Palestinian Authority. “This social and humanitarian assistance creates a kind of stability in the Palestinian society. Cutting the assistance is what will lead to extremism.”
Qaraqe’s defense of the stipends to families of prisoners and “martyrs” came three days after the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 17-4 to cut off some $300 million in annual aid to the Palestinian Authority unless what lawmakers describe as payments rewarding terrorism are halted.
The bill calling for the cutoff is known as the Taylor Force Act after a 29-year old American military veteran fatally stabbed by a Palestinian, while visiting Israel last year. The family of the assailant, Bashar Masalha, who wounded ten other people in his stabbing rampage, receives a PA stipend. News reports at the time said he was killed by a police volunteer while lying on the ground after his capture.
The army demolished his family home near Nablus.
The bill must still be passed by the Senate and House of Representatives to become law.
Reuters quoted Sen. Bob Corker, the committee’s Republican chairman, as saying he hoped it would prevent innocent people “being murdered by someone who’s being incentivized to do that by his own government.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, the bill’s sponsor, said: “I insist that they stop paying their young people to become terrorists and I don’t want our tax dollars used to support any government that would do that.”
But Qaraqe termed the committee vote “an incorrect decision” and said “the reason for it is Israeli incitement against the prisoners and martyrs. It cannot be implemented. We as Palestinians reject the accusation that the prisoners are terrorists.
We consider the occupation the reason for terrorism in the region and that these prisoners are victims of the presence of the Israeli occupation.”
“Legally, the responsibility is individual, not collective. The individual is in prison but he has a family” that needs support, he said. He said that about 7,000 families receive monthly payments.
Qaraqe voiced confidence that Abbas would not cave in to American pressure over the payments. “Abu Mazen can’t give up on thousands of families that fell victim to the Israeli occupation. The authority cannot accept this decision.”
Over the weekend, Husam Zomlot, chief representative of the Palestinian General Delegation to the US, told a gathering of Palestinian expatriates that he had informed the US administration and members of Congress that “if there is a choice between the American aid and our responsibilities to our people we will choose the latter” the Bethlehem-based Ma’an news agency reported.
But officials in the PA are deeply concerned about the impact of a halt to the American aid. An official in the Social Affairs Ministry, who requested anonymity, said it would harm the PA’s ability to keep making its welfare payments to 110,000 families living below the poverty line. “We refuse this decision.
It will affect the poor families our ministry supports, most of which don’t have income and live off of our assistance.”
“This decision negatively affects the standing of the authority in the view of these people, weakens the authority and makes it unable to carry out its commitments to the poor families,” the official said.
“As long as poverty increases and the PA’s position weakens in the view of society, extremism increases. More economic pressure on the authority is not in the interest of the PA or Israel,” the official added.
In a separate development, Abbas prepared to hold talks in Ramallah Monday with Jordan’s King Abdullah. The two are expected to discuss the situation in Jerusalem in the wake of last month’s crisis over the al-Aksa mosque compound.
“The Jerusalem issue concerns Arabs, Muslims and Christians and there is special importance to the question of Jerusalem for the Jordanian and Palestinian sides,” said Fatah central committee member Azzam al-Ahmad in a statement quoted by Ma’an. “Our brothers in Jordan are custodians of the holy places.”
He said the two leaders would also discuss “the aggression that occurred against the two Jordanians at the Israeli Embassy in Amman”, a reference to the incident last month in which an Israeli security guard who was stabbed and slightly wounded shot dead the assailant and a bystander. Israel has opened an investigation into the incident, which touched off outrage in Jordan.