February 12, 2024 | Washington Examiner

A Palestinian Authority that rewards terrorism has no place in Gaza

February 12, 2024 | Washington Examiner

A Palestinian Authority that rewards terrorism has no place in Gaza

The Biden administration wants a “revitalized” Palestinian Authority to take responsibility for postwar Gaza. Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh just announced a plan to launch that revitalization.

Rooting out the PA’s entrenched corruption and inefficiency will be hard enough, but all talk of revival will be hollow unless the PA stops spending hundreds of millions of dollars per year on welfare for terrorists. Yet for now, the PA is actually planning to add more terrorists to the welfare rolls.

Pursuant to PA law, Ramallah offers monthly salaries and other benefits to Palestinians who are, or were, imprisoned in Israel for “participating in the struggle against the occupation.” Families of prisoners and “martyrs” are also eligible for reward, as is any Palestinian who is expelled “by force from his usual place of residence [to locations] inside or outside Palestine.” Critics of the program label it “pay-to-slay.”

Prisoners receive a base salary of approximately $375 per month but can expect a higher payout the longer they remain imprisoned. Hence, the worse the crime, the greater the reward for the perpetrator.

The average daily wage in Gaza is just $15, so pay-to-slay payments may equal or exceed earned income. The average wage in the West Bank is better: $37 per day. But according to the U.S. State Department, nearly one-third of private sector employees in the West Bank earn less than the minimum wage of $570 per month.

Before Oct. 7, the PA spent approximately $13.4 million every month on salaries for Palestinians currently or formerly incarcerated in Israel. However, the PA expanded its pay-to-slay roster in January to include 3,550 new prisoners Israel captured in the current war, increasing Ramallah’s monthly expenditure by at least $1.3 million.

Ramallah will also compensate the families of over 23,000 “martyrs” killed in Gaza during the war. The list of martyrs is drawn from the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between civilians and combatants. This means the families of terrorists killed in Gaza could benefit from their crimes. According to the Israel Defense Forces, approximately 10,000 Hamas fighters have been killed in Gaza during the war.

Ramallah’s annual pay-to-slay expenses are more than $300 million, which is nearly 10% of the PA’s budget. This year, that number will likely grow.

Over the years, the United States and Israel have put mechanisms in place that constrain the PA’s ability to finance pay-to-slay. In 2018, Congress passed the Taylor Force Act, named for an American victim of Palestinian terrorism, which conditions “certain economic assistance” to the PA on the cessation of pay-to-slay. Additionally, Israel withholds over $100 million each year in funds earmarked for Ramallah to offset the money the PA spends on terror salaries.

Unsurprisingly, Israel is less enthused than the U.S. about bringing the PA back to Gaza. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that he “will not allow the entry into Gaza of those who educate for terrorism, support terrorism and finance terrorism.”

It is a mistake for Washington to place its hopes for a more peaceful Middle East with the PA so long as the pay-to-slay spigot remains open. To be sure, that is not the only reform necessary for the PA to qualify as revitalized. PA President Mahmoud Abbas is serving his 19th year of a four-year term. Economic mismanagement has left the Palestinian economy in decay. Civic institutions need to be overhauled.

Shtayyeh says the PA is ready to address “judicial, security, administrative, and financial” reforms. Even so, the Biden administration should not lower the bar to justify the PA’s return to Gaza. Only after the PA proves it has changed should it be welcome in Gaza. That includes ending pay-to-slay.

Natalie Ecanow is a research analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a nonpartisan research institute in Washington, D.C., focusing on national security and foreign policy. Follow FDD on X: @FDD.


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