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Palestinians condemn Israel penalty for payments to prisoner families

Israeli Defense Minister hails new law

RAMALLAH: Palestinians burn portraits of US President Donald Trump during a demonstration in the West Bank city of Ramallah against US policy supporting Israel. -AFP

RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories: Palestinian leaders yesterday strongly condemned a new Israeli law that will freeze money transfers to the Palestinian Authority to punish the PA’s payments to families of those jailed for attacks. The move threatens the existence of the cash-strapped PA and amounts to “theft”, said Saeb Erekat, secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization. Both he and a spokesman for Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas called it a “dangerous decision”.
The legislation was approved late Monday and gives the Israeli government powers to withhold an amount of money based on what is paid to the prisoners and their families by the PA. Israel collects around $127 million a month in customs duties levied on goods destined for Palestinian markets that transit through Israeli ports, and then transfers it to the PA. “This is a very dangerous decision that amounts to the cancellation of the Palestinian Authority and is piracy and theft,” Erekat said.
“Israel is stealing the land and money of the Palestinian people, and that is a result of the decisions of (US) President (Donald) Trump, who supports Israel.” Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina said the Palestinian leadership was planning a response to the move, which he said would cross “one of the red lines” if implemented. According to a sponsor of the legislation, the PA pays around $330 million a year to prisoners and their families, accounting for seven percent of its budget.
Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman hailed the new law, saying: “Every shekel Mahmud Abbas will pay for terrorists and assassins will be automatically withdrawn from the Palestinian Authority’s budget. “An effective war on terrorism also passes through the pocket-of the terrorists, of their families and of Mahmud Abbas.”

Encouraging violence?
US legislation that became law in March also withholds some aid to the Palestinian leadership over the payments to prisoners’ families and the families of those killed while carrying out attacks. The law, known as the “Taylor Force Act”, is named after a US military veteran and graduate student who was killed in a 2016 attack while he was visiting Israel. Israel argues that payments to the families of Palestinians jailed for security offences or killed by Israeli forces while carrying out attacks encourage further violence.

Many Palestinians view the prisoners and those killed while carrying out attacks as heroes or “martyrs” in the struggle against Israeli occupation. The payments can be a key source of income for families, who have in many cases lost their main breadwinner. Abbas would face heavy pressure among Palestinians if he would move to cut the payments. Palestinian officials say some 850,000 people have spent time in Israeli prisons in the 50 years since Israel seized the Palestinian territories in the 1967 Six-Day War.

Israel currently detains some 6,500 Palestinians for a range of offences and alleged crimes. The Jewish state has withheld payments to the PA in the past, notably in response to the Palestinians’ 2011 admission to the UN cultural agency UNESCO as a full member. The PA, which has limited sovereignty in parts of the occupied West Bank, relies heavily on outside financial aid. It is also facing what is sees as blatant bias from Trump’s administration and froze relations with the White House after he recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital last year.

But while the prisoner payments have sparked outrage in Israel and elsewhere, Israeli authorities also benefit from security coordination with the PA and may be reluctant to see financial cuts that significantly affect that. Abbas’s secular Fatah movement dominates the West Bank-based PA, while his Islamist rivals Hamas control the Gaza Strip. Hamas and Israel have fought three wars since the Islamists overran Gaza more than a decade ago.–AFP

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