Analysis from Israel

Note: After this article was published, Israel announced that it would in fact start deducting salaries paid to terrorists from its tax transfers to the Palestinian Authority

The brutal terror attack in which a teenaged Palestinian murdered a 13-year-old Israeli in her own bed early this morning—an Israeli who was also an American citizen—is a perfect example of why a piece of legislation now moving through Congress is essential. The bill won’t end the Palestinian Authority’s abhorrent practice of paying generous salaries to the perpetrators of such murders. But it will at least stop it from doing so on the U.S. taxpayer’s dime.

A brief recap: The PA has for years paid above-market salaries to the perpetrators of anti-Israel terror attacks. The salaries range from 2,400 to 12,000 shekels a month and are paid for the duration of the perpetrator’s jail sentence in Israel (people killed while committing attacks get other benefits). The lower figure is roughly equivalent to the average–not minimum–wage for people who actually hold jobs in the West Bank, and about 40 percent higher than the average wage in Gaza; figures at the higher end of the range are the kind of salaries most Palestinians can’t even dream of. In short, the PA has made terror far more lucrative than productive work.

No less repulsive is the fact that the size of the monthly salary is tied to the length of the jail sentence. The highest payments go to those serving life sentences, meaning those who managed to murder at least one Israeli, while the lowest go to those serving the shortest sentences–i.e. failed terrorists who didn’t manage to kill or wound anyone. Thus, not only does the PA incentivize committing terror over getting a job, but it also incentivizes mass murder over minor offenses.

After discovering this in 2011, the organization Palestinian Media Watch (PMW) began hounding the PA’s Western donors over whether they really wanted to be spending taxpayers’ money to pay salaries to suicide bombers. The answer, it turned out, was yes: Virtually without exception, Western governments refused to cut donations to the PA over this issue. But under pressure from a few lawmakers and journalists who found this reprehensible, they eventually decided they needed a face-saving way to pretend their aid wasn’t being used to pay killers. So the PA obligingly provided one. In 2014, it announced that it would no longer pay these salaries; instead, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) would do it. And since Western donors give money to the PA, not the PLO, they would no longer be involved.

This was always a transparent fiction. Both organizations are headed by PA President Mahmoud Abbas and controlled by his Fatah faction, and money flows freely between them. But the indefatigable PMW soon provided hard evidence of this. In January 2015, for instance, the PA Finance Ministry announced that its annual budget included money for these salaries. Moreover, when Israel halted tax transfers to the PA in early 2015 over an unrelated dispute, the PA announced that due to its cash shortage, prisoners’ salaries would be cut. That would not have been unnecessary had the PLO actually been paying those salaries out of its own funds since the PLO doesn’t get any money from Israel to begin with.

None of this bothered Western governments. They continued pretending that the PA really had stopped paying these salaries, and the Obama Administration was no exception. But it did bother U.S. lawmakers.

Earlier this week, the Senate Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs approved a change in next year’s State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill. The change requires aid to the PA to be cut “by an amount the secretary [of state] determines is equivalent to the amount expended by the Palestinian Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organization and any successor or affiliated organizations, as payments for acts of terrorism by individuals who are imprisoned after being fairly tried and convicted for acts of terrorism, and by individuals who died committing acts of terrorism during the previous calendar year.”

The House approved a slightly different version, which also mentions the PLO but doesn’t include the phrase “and any successor or affiliated organizations.” Senator Dan Coats (R-Indiana), who introduced that phrase in the Senate, told the Jerusalem Post he would try to persuade the House to adopt it, too, and his colleagues should listen. As he correctly said, absent language to preempt the possibility, the PA will simply create another face-saving dodge, and the State Department will surely accept it just like it accepted the PLO fiction.

Coats said he understands concerns that cutting aid to the PA could destabilize it, but believes “there’s a moral issue here that transcends that concern.” And he’s right: It’s simply immoral for America to be financing terror.

Moreover, adding insult to injury, the U.S. has always deducted the cost of settlement construction from loan guarantees to Israel. So essentially, U.S. government policy, as it stands now, is that building houses is a much worse crime than committing mass murder. Regardless of what you think of the settlements, that’s a moral outrage.

Coats was also right to call out Israel on this issue. “I don’t understand how Israelis can accept this practice, on the argument of maintaining stability in that government [the PA],” he said, presumably referring to the fact that Israel doesn’t deduct the cost of these salaries from its tax transfers to the PA.

Granted, the Israeli case is more complicated because, unlike U.S. aid, those tax transfers aren’t gifts; they’re Palestinian taxes on Palestinian activity Israel collects on the PA’s behalf. Nevertheless, by transferring this money, Israel is complicit in incentivizing the murder of its own citizens, and thereby most likely violating its own laws against financing terror. It’s long past time for that to stop; Israel should simply deduct a monthly amount equivalent to those salaries and use it to pay long-overdue Palestinian debts to Israeli companies (like the 1.7 billion shekels owed the Israel Electric Corporation).

Finally, both American and Israeli officials should press European governments on this issue. A good place to start might be Britain, where just this month, an independent report commissioned by the Department for International Development concluded that by enabling the PA to pay salaries to terrorists, British aid to the PA had made anti-Israel terror “more likely.” DFID predictably dismissed the report, but it caused a storm in Parliament.

By encouraging terror attacks, such funding also contradicts the West’s stated goal of promoting Israeli-Palestinian peace, since Palestinian terror merely convinces most Israelis that ceding the West Bank would be a bad idea. But even if this weren’t the case, it’s long past time for the West to stop incentivizing the murder of Israelis through its foreign aid. As Coats said, some things are simply too immoral to be tolerated.

Originally published in Commentary on June 30, 2016

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In Europe, Israel needs a bottom-up approach to diplomacy

For years, I considered Europe a lost cause from Israel’s perspective and decried the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s Euro-centric focus, arguing that it should instead devote more effort to places like Africa, Asia and South America, which seemed to offer better prospects for flipping countries into the pro-Israel camp. But the past few years have proven that Europe isn’t hopeless—if Israel changes its traditional modus operandi.

This has been evident, first of all, in the alliances that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has formed with several countries in eastern and southern Europe, resulting in these countries repeatedly blocking anti-Israel decisions at the European Union level. Previously, Israeli diplomacy had focused overwhelmingly on Western Europe. Netanyahu’s key insight was that conservative, nationalist governments seeking to preserve their own nation-states would have more instinctive sympathy for a Jewish state than the liberal universalists who dominate in Western Europe, and whose goal is to replace nation-states with an ever-closer European union.

But as several recent events show, even Western Europe isn’t a lost cause. The difference is that there, conventional high-level diplomacy won’t work. Rather, the key to change is the fact that most Europeans, like most people everywhere, don’t really care that much about Israel, the Palestinians or their unending conflict. Consequently, small groups of committed activists can exert a disproportionate influence on policy.

For years, this has worked against Israel because the anti-Israel crowd woke up to this fact very early and took full advantage of it. Take, for instance, the 2015 decision to boycott Israel adopted by Britain’s national student union. The union represents some 7 million students, but its executive council passed the decision by a vote of 19-12. Or consider the academic boycott of Israel approved in 2006 by Britain’s National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (which no longer exists, having merged into a larger union). The association had some 67,000 members at the time, but only 198 bothered to vote, of whom 109 voted in favor.

Yet it turns out pro-Israel activists can use the same tactics, as in last week’s approval of a resolution saying anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism by the lower house of France’s parliament. The resolution passed 154-72, meaning that fewer than 40 percent of the National Assembly’s 577 deputies bothered to vote, even though 550 deputies were present earlier in the day to vote on the social security budget. In other words, most deputies simply didn’t care about this issue, which meant that passing the resolution required convincing only about a quarter of the house.

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