The Palestinian Authority spends roughly 10 percent of its annual budget paying terrorists who attack Israelis and supporting their families, according to expert testimony to congressional lawmakers.
Yigal Carmon, the president and founder of the Middle East Media Research Institute, told the House Foreign Affairs Committee Wednesday that the Palestinian Authority is investing $137.8 million this year in salaries to terrorists jailed in Israel and payments to the families of imprisoned terrorists or suicide bombers, in violated of the Oslo peace accords with Israel.
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Wednesday’s hearing took place following a months-long wave of violent attacks waged by Palestinians on Israelis in the West Bank. Last week, a Palestinian attacker broke into a home in the West Bank and stabbed to death a 13-year-old Israeli-American girl in her sleep.
There have been 250 such attacks or attempted attacks by Palestinians on Israelis since October 2015, according to the report of the Middle East Quartet—comprised of the United States, Russia, the European Union, and the United Nations—issued last week. The assaults have killed at least 30 Israelis and resulted in dozens of Palestinians being killed by Israeli police.
Official Palestinian Authority media have glorified perpetrators of these terrorist attacks. Bashar Masalha, a Palestinian who stabbed U.S. Army veteran Taylor Force to death and wounded several others in March, was hailed on official media outlets as a "martyr" at the time of his funeral.
"We welcome every drop of blood spilled in Jerusalem. This is pure blood, clean blood, blood on its way to Allah," Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas stated last September on Palestinian television. "With the help of Allah, every martyr will be in heaven, and every wounded will get his reward."
The Palestinian Authority has also furnished terrorists and their families with financial support weighted by the severity of the attack, a matter over which congressional lawmakers expressed outrage on Wednesday.
"These terrorists are not, in fact, lone rangers. They are not lone wolves," said Rep. Ed Royce (R., Calif.), who chairs the committee, in opening remarks during the hearing. "Instead, these terrorists are the product of the programming done by the PA’s perverted culture that glorifies the willingness to die or to spend time in prison in pursuit of killing or maiming Israelis."
According to Carmon’s testimony, which was informed by an analysis of the Palestinian Authority’s budget and years of research, the Palestinian Authority transfers funds to terrorist prisoners in Israeli or their families using two Palestinian Liberation Organization funds. The financial support of these individuals is mandated by law.
Prisoners must be provided a monthly salary ranging from $364 to over $3,000 during their detention, and salaries or jobs upon their release. Those who commit the most grievous attacks receive the most substantial monthly payments and are also entitled to jobs in the Palestinian Authority institution upon their release.
Carmon said that it is difficult to determine exactly what percentage of the Palestinian Authority’s annual budget is put toward this cause because of a lack of transparency, but estimated that it amounts to about 10 percent.
"It is just outrageous that they pay cold-blooded killers who murder innocent people and call them martyrs," Rep. Eliot Engel (D., N.Y.), the committee’s ranking member, said during the hearing. "I cannot think of anything more disgusting."
While Abbas two years ago ordered that these salaries not be paid by the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Prisoners’ Affairs but instead by the Palestinian Liberation Organization, Carmon described this as a "deliberately misleading move" to assuage concerns from donor countries worried about their money being funneled to terrorists.
"The source of the money remains the PA, which receives them from donor countries, and the overseeing body remains none other than the PA," Carmon told lawmakers. He said that countries who provide aid to Palestine, including the United States, are "complicit" in inciting terrorism because the Palestinian Authority uses foreign donations to subsidize terrorists and their families.
"By providing this support, the PA is encouraging terrorism in violation of its Oslo commitment.
Furthermore, the PA has been using money granted by donor countries for this purpose, and by doing so, has made them complicit in encouraging terrorism as well," Carmon said.
The United States has committed over $5 billion in bilateral economic and non-lethal aid to the Palestinians since the mid-1990s in order to prevent Palestinian terrorist groups from attacking Israel and promote piece in the West Bank, according to a Congressional Research Service report issued in March.
While U.S. law allows the government to cut aid to the Palestinian Authority for paying terrorists and their families, the Palestinian Authority has avoided this by transferring the payments to the Palestinian Liberation Organization, experts said Wednesday.
"The U.S. stipulations have … been evaded by the PA by this deceitful technique of funneling money to terrorists and their families under a different name," said David Pollock, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
"I think that the United States and other countries should … reduce the amount or condition the amount of assistance that they provide to the PA without threatening to or without actually cutting it off completely," Pollock, added, cautioning that completely ceasing aid could result in the collapse of the Palestinian Authority.
"I do think that a certain calibrated, limited amount of financial pressure applied, again, by the United States without any loopholes or escape hatches and, if possible, by European and other donors to the PA would be helpful in addressing this immediate issue," Pollock added.
Members of Congress have pursued legislative action to address this problem. A Senate subcommittee recently approved language inserted into the fiscal year 2017 State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill that would cut U.S. aid to Palestine by an amount equal to that "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 companion bill in the House also includes similar language. The State Department would be responsible for enforcing the law.
Israel has already implemented such action. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Friday that the country would withhold some tax revenues that it sends to the Palestinian Authority. The amount withheld will be equal to what is "being transferred by the Palestinian Authority to terrorists and their families," though it is unclear how much it will be.
Some members of Congress took a hardline approach toward the issue on Wednesday. Rep. Ted Yoho (R., Fla.) said that the United States should send a clear message to Palestine that "if these policies continue, we’re done."
"We are funding hatred. We are funding terrorism," Yoho said, labeling it "unconscionable" to provide aid to Palestine in the name of peace while the Palestinian Authority is subsidizing terrorists.
Royce said that the United States and its European allies must do more to use leverage against Palestinian Authority to halt the practice of rewarding terrorists.
"If the PA’s irresponsible behavior continues, the whole premise for funding the PA needs to be reconsidered. The U.S. needs to do better at bringing the parties together while holding the parties responsible for their actions. This has traditionally been our role," Royce said. "Unfortunately, in recent years, the Obama administration has been hesitant to hold the PA accountable—yet has consistently pressured Israel."