National Security

Palestinian Government Continues Payments to Terrorists Despite Cash Crunch

Non-public State Department report to Congress discloses pay-to-slay operation

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas
Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas / Getty Images

The Palestine Liberation Organization continues to pay terrorists and their families from government coffers despite a massive cash crunch that has paralyzed the Palestinian government, according to a non-public State Department report obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.

Known as a policy of "pay to slay," the Palestinian government uses money from international donors and other aid groups to financially support imprisoned terrorists and their families. The practice has long attracted international scorn and played a significant role in the Trump administration’s 2018 decision to cut nearly $200 million in U.S. funding to the Palestinian government. While the move was meant to pressure Palestinian leaders into ending the payments, the PLO has continued the practice under the radar, according to a recent report submitted by the State Department to Congress.

"Despite fiscal constraints … the [Palestinian Authority] continued to make payments through the PLO to Palestinians connected to terrorism," according to the report. "This is despite Israel’s decision to suspend extension of sovereignty into the West Bank. The recipients of the payments included Palestinian terrorists in Israeli prison, released Palestinian terrorists, and the families of Palestinians who were wounded or died while committing terrorist acts or in connection with terrorism."

The continuation of these payments is likely to frustrate lawmakers and U.S. diplomats who have been working to make the Palestinian government solvent and more likely to engage in peace talks with Israel. While the State Department did not say how much the Palestinian government spends on terrorists, outside groups put the number at upwards of $300 million a year. The pay-to-slay program has been a major roadblock with Israel, which moved in February to fine any banks that facilitate these payments. Palestinian leaders, however, have vowed to continue supporting terrorists.

A State Department official, speaking on background, confirmed the report's findings when contacted by the Free Beacon and said the U.S. government rejects the Palestinian government's continued policy of paying convicted terrorists.

"The biannual Palestine Liberation Organization Commitments Compliance Act Report reflects the Department's findings of continued payments by the Palestinian Authority to Palestinians connected to terrorism," the official said. "The United States strongly condemns the Palestinian Authority's practice of paying terrorist or their families.

"The [Palestinian Authority] argues these transfers are social payments for families who have lost their primary breadwinner," according to the report. "The United States and Israel argue that the payments incentivize, encourage, and reward terrorism, given higher monthly payments for lengthier prison sentences tied to more severe crimes."

The report also identified Iranian-backed terrorist organizations operating in the Gaza Strip as a "serious threat" to the United States and Israel. This includes Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and other militant groups funded by Tehran.

Repeated attacks by these groups, as well as Hamas’s efforts to "build its arsenal used for terrorism against Israel were the primary factors in the worsening economic and humanitarian situation in Gaza," the report states.

"Terrorist groups and their sympathizers continued to smuggle illegal weapons and cash into the Gaza Strip via the few remaining underground tunnels located along the Egypt-Gaza border," according to the report, which notes this runs afoul of commitments made by Palestinian leaders to crack down on terror-related activities.

The State Department also highlighted public statements from Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas and other top officials promoting violence against Israel. Palestinian schools and media outlets "continue to promote the idea that Israel does not have a right to exist" and they "support the elimination of Israel on maps," according to the report. "PLO and PA leaders have praised Palestinian terrorists and claimed that all forms of resistance are legitimate."

Palestinian leaders continued in recent months to feed the International Criminal Court information about alleged war crimes, the report notes. Both the United States and Israel have rejected these efforts and continue to boycott the court over its investigation into supposed crimes.