Palestinian Authority, Key to Biden’s Mideast Peace Plan, Commits To Pay $97M a Year to Hamas

Then-Vice President Joe Biden alongside PA President Mahmoud Abbas in 2010 (Uriel Sinai/Getty Images)
March 4, 2024

JERUSALEM—As President Joe Biden pushes to empower the Palestinian Authority in the name of Middle East peace, the PA has committed tens of millions of dollars per year for terrorists who were killed or captured while carrying out Hamas’ Oct. 7 terror attack on Israel and the resulting war.

Since Oct. 7, the PA has doubled down on its longstanding "pay for slay" policy, which gives salaries and benefits to Palestinians imprisoned for involvement in violence against Israel and to the families of those killed in "the revolution" against the Jewish state. The policy does not distinguish between terrorists and civilians. But based on Israel Defense Forces estimates of enemy casualties and prisoners, the PA has put itself on the hook for more than $97 million in such payments for more than 13,000 Hamas terrorists in the year following Oct. 7.

The PA has moved to ramp up its spending on terrorism even as the West Bank, where the PA governs, spirals into a historic economic crisis. It's a stark display of the authority’s priorities that clashes with the Biden administration's vague plans for a "revamped" PA to govern Gaza—and eventually a Palestinian state that will supposedly lead regional normalization with Israel.

The Israeli government has opposed Biden's post-war plans, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying the PA is little different than Hamas, the rival Palestinian faction that rules Gaza. Brig. Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser, a former director general of Israel's Ministry of Strategic Affairs under Netanyahu, told the Washington Free Beacon that a PA-run Gaza would quickly pose a renewed Oct. 7-like threat.

"There's no reason to believe anything else would happen if the Palestinian Authority took control of Gaza," said Kuperwasser, a senior fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, a think tank. "The Palestinian Authority is responsible for creating an incentive system and a mindset that made Oct. 7 possible in the first place, and they are too weak and unpopular to stop it from happening again."

The PA maintains a level of security cooperation with Israel. But, Kuperwasser noted, in addition to running "pay for slay," the PA continues to promote hatred of Israel and Jews in its education system and media, and has avoided condemning the Oct. 7 attack, during which Gazan terrorists killed more than 1,200 people, most of them Israeli civilians, and took 253 hostages, according to Israel.

The Biden administration has pressed the PA to make reforms in preparation for an expanded governing role but has not publicly demanded the end of "pay for slay" or PA president Mahmoud Abbas' rule. After the entire PA government resigned on Monday, leaving only Abbas atop the corrupt and unpopular authoritarian regime, State Department spokesman Matthew Miller hailed the development as an "important step toward achieving a reunited Gaza and West Bank under the Palestinian Authority."

"The Biden administration has consistently made clear that we are strongly opposed to this practice," the State Department said in statement to the Free Beacon, referring to "pay for slay."

Abbas’ office did not respond to requests for comment.

The PA under Abbas has long treated "pay for slay" as a near-sacred obligation, generously funding the policy in the face of growing international sanctions. In 2018, the PA allocated $340 million to "pay for slay," according to Kuperwasser's authoritative research. The payments accounted for 7 percent of the PA’s budget and benefited just 1 to 2 percent of the population. That same year, the United States and Israel enacted laws that slashed funding of the PA over "pay for slay," accelerating international divestment from the authority. The PA has since concealed its "pay for slay" budget.

"We will not accept a cut or cancellation of salaries to the families of martyrs and prisoners, as some are trying to bring about," Abbas said in July 2018 remarks that PA officials have often repeated over the years. "Even if we have only a penny left, we will give it to the martyrs, the prisoners, and their families."

The PA's resulting fiscal problems have exploded since Oct. 7, fueled by a tax dispute with Israel. The PA has reduced and postponed government workers' salaries, paying them less than half of what they were owed over the past five months. Because the PA is the biggest Palestinian employer, the pay cuts have triggered the worst economic contraction in the West Bank since the second intifada, a wave of Palestinian terrorism two decades ago, according to the World Bank.

Bothaina Hamdan, 41, the head of international relations in the PA’s Culture Ministry and a single mother of two, told the Free Beacon the authority has cut back on public services and her income no longer covers her family’s expenses.

"Not having our full salary, this makes our life miserable and poor," Hamdan said, though she blamed Israel and not the PA. "We feel as parents, as a mother, we don’t know how to explain the political problem and the effect on our daily life."

Amid the cash crunch, the PA has paid terrorists at the same rate as government workers, Palestinian officials and other West Bank residents told the Free Beacon. PA officials and news outlets have also affirmed that "pay for slay" will be extended to every "martyr" and prisoner of Oct. 7 and its aftermath.

"By our law, these people should be given money for their children or for their families to be able to live," Rami Hadid, the head of the PA's Palestine Post, which transfers the "pay for slay" payments, told the Free Beacon. "It doesn't matter if the person is from the West Bank or Gaza."

According to PA law and decree, the families of "all those martyred and wounded as a result of being participants or bystanders in the revolution" are entitled to an immediate one-time grant of about $1,700 followed by a lifetime annual salary of at least $4,700, similar to the average West Bank income. Prisoners, defined as "anyone incarcerated in the occupation’s prisons for his participation in the struggle against the occupation," receive a monthly salary of at least $420 that increases with the length of incarceration. For example, Abdullah Barghouti, 52, a Hamas commander and mass murderer who has served 21 years of 67 life sentences in Israeli prison, gets a monthly PA salary of more than $2,200. Released prisoners are also guaranteed salaries, benefits, or jobs.

Early last month, the Palestine Liberation Organization's Foundation for the Care of Martyrs and Wounded Families, which is funded by the PA, recognized 22,000 "martyrs" of the "genocide and massacres by the occupation’s forces against our people in the Gaza Strip," according to the official PA daily newspaper.

"[Intisar al-Wazir, the head of the foundation] emphasized that the leadership led by President Mahmoud Abbas is committed to taking care of the families of our martyrs and wounded and making sure to guarantee a dignified life for them," the daily, Al-Hayat al-Jadida, reported. "She also emphasized that the Foundation for the Care of Martyrs and Wounded Families … will continue its efforts to provide the services that it gives these families, which have sacrificed that which is most precious to them for the homeland."

As of Thursday, the number of Palestinians killed in Gaza during the war had exceeded 30,000, according to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry. IDF spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said in a briefing on Thursday that Israeli troops had killed more than 13,000 Hamas terrorists during the war. At least 411 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli troops in the West Bank since Oct. 7, per the Palestinian health ministry in Ramallah. The official Palestinian numbers cannot be independently verified and do not differentiate between civilians and combatants.

If the families of all those "martyrs" file the required paperwork, the PA will owe them about $51 million in one-time grants and about $143 million in lifetime annual salaries. The dead Hamas terrorists claimed by Israel alone will cost the PA $23 million in one-time grants and $63 million in annual salaries.

At the end of last month, Qadura Fares, then a PA minister and head of the Commission for Detainees and Ex-Prisoners’ Affairs, declared the authority was making it easier for Palestinians arrested by Israel during the war to receive their "pay for slay" salaries.

"There are thousand of new prisoners," Fares said on the official PA TV station. "Since Israel is preventing the Red Cross from visiting [the prisoners], we have implemented an emergency measure to put the matter in order, and a decision was made that there is no need for the document from the Red Cross in order to open a file starting from Jan. 1, 2024 until April 30."

According to the PA and human rights groups, more than 9,000 Palestinians are held in Israeli jails, up from about 5,200 before Oct. 7. Hagari said on Thursday that the IDF had arrested some 3,400 terrorists during the war, including 1,500 Hamas members. The IDF has said it captured about 200 Hamas terrorists in Israel on Oct. 7 and hundreds more in Gaza since.

Four-thousand-eight-hundred new prisoners would add more than $24 million to the PA's budget over the course of a year, including about $11 million for those Israel identified as Hamas terrorists. Captured Oct. 7 terrorists will likely serve life sentences or be made "martyrs" by the state, entailing much larger costs no for the PA.

All together, the PA has taken on more than $218 million in new expenses for "martyrs" and prisoners over the next year—a more than 50 percent increase in the "pay for slay" budget, assuming such costs increased at the same rate as others from 2018 to 2024.

Israel has vowed to keep fighting in Gaza until Hamas is incapacitated and the hostages are returned, with six to eight more weeks of full-scale war expected.

Itamar Marcus, the director of Palestinian Media Watch, an Israeli watchdog group, told the Free Beacon it took the PA up to several years to process payments to "martyrs" and prisoners after previous Israel-Hamas wars. But he said the PA will eventually find a way to do so again, even if the authority has to make cuts elsewhere.

"They don't care how much their people suffer," he said. "They have made rewarding terror their cause célèbre. It's the most important thing in their budget. That's what they tell their people, and they've convinced their people that no one deserves it more than the terrorists."

Hamdan, the PA employee, agreed: "We are complaining about their salaries being cut. But after what happened in Gaza, we want to stop the Israeli genocide. This is our only dream."