Just days after Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden called for a full resumption of U.S. aid to the Palestinian government, new disclosures revealed the Palestinians are still using international contributions to pay salaries to terrorists who have killed Israeli citizens.
Congress first froze aid to the Palestinian Authority in 2017 after it became clear the government was spending a large portion of the money on a "pay to slay" program, which sends funds to imprisoned terrorists and their families. While a bipartisan majority of Congress passed the bill, far left factions of the Democratic Party have been pushing for the aid to resume without conditions that payments to terrorists cease.
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Biden vowed to resume U.S. aid just days before a watchdog group discovered the Palestinian government has continued using international aid to make these payments.
"I will reopen the U.S. consulate in East Jerusalem, find a way to reopen the PLO's diplomatic mission in Washington, and resume the decades-long economic and security assistance efforts to the Palestinians that the Trump administration stopped," Biden said last week in a statement.
Biden inaccurately claimed it was the Trump administration that spearheaded the aid freeze. In fact, Congress mandated the freeze in 2018 when it passed the Taylor Force Act, legislation that required the Palestinian government to end compensation programs for terrorists. The Trump administration did end funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which has long faced accusations of promoting anti-Israel educational materials and helps hide terrorist activity.
New reports by an Israeli watchdog group indicate that the Palestinian government has continued "pay to slay" payments in secret, an effort the watchdog says is meant to confuse the international community as it seeks to account for how the money was spent.
"The Palestinian Authority's monthly financial documents for 2020 show that the PA is, again, trying to hide its monthly salary payments to the Palestinian terrorist prisoners from the international community," Palestinian Media Watch (PMW), an Israeli group that monitors the PA, reported last week. "Its monthly budget performance reports for 2018 and 2019 openly listed the salaries to terrorist prisoners as expenditures of the PA Ministry of Prisoners' Affairs. However, since the beginning of 2020, there is no listing at all for the Ministry of Prisoners' Affairs."
After reviewing the PA's budget documents, PMW determined "the PA is still paying the monthly salaries to terrorist prisoners, but is trying to hide them by listing them under a different category."
This budgetary strategy is meant to hide these payments from the public, despite numerous statements from Palestinian leaders that the "pay to slay" program will never be canceled.
"There is something that the Americans are telling us to stop—the salaries of the martyrs and the martyrs' families," PA president Mahmoud Abbas said in 2018, when the freeze in aid was being debated in Congress. "Of course we categorically reject this. We will not under any circumstances allow anyone to harm the families of the prisoners, the wounded, and the martyrs. They are our children and they are our families. They honor us, and we will continue to pay them before the living."
Instead of listing allocations to the Ministry of Prisoners' Affairs, the PA has shifted more than 1 million Israeli shekels—just under $300,000—to "PLO institutions," a reference to the Palestine Liberation Organization's budget.
"There has been a huge rise in the amount the PA transfers to the ‘PLO institutions'—an amount equivalent to what the PA used to allocate to the Ministry of Prisoners' Affairs," according to PMW. "In other words, the PA is continuing to fund the salaries to terrorists but is listing it, not as a direct PA expense, but hiding it under the PLO expenditures."
The Biden campaign did not respond to a request for comment on these payments or whether the disclosure might alter their candidate's stance on the matter.