Analysis: Pressure increases over PA terrorist salaries

LFI chair Joan Ryan MP has written to Theresa May, urging the government to ensure that the Palestinian Authority does not pay a salary to the man who murdered British student Hannah Bladon in Jerusalem last month.  This practice, enshrined in Palestinian law and first exposed in 2011, has been widely condemned by the international community. Those who participate in terror attacks who are imprisoned in Israeli jails automatically receive a government salary, with more money granted for those with longer sentences. Around $150m per year is transferred to Palestinian prisoners. In her letter, Ms Ryan asks the government to demand that the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, denounces the murder in Arabic on PA TV and announces that no salary will be paid, and threaten financial sanctions should no announcement occur.

The letter comes at a time where international pressure on the PA to end the practice is increasing. It is believed that President Trump will demand the PA stops making these payments in his meeting with Abbas today, and in return he will offer to suspend his plans to move the American embassy to Jerusalem. On Israel’s annual Memorial Day last Monday, Benjamin Netanyahu also called on Abbas to end the practice. “Cancel payments to the murderers” he said. “Cancel the law that requires payments to these murderers. Fund peace and not murder.” A previous bout of diplomacy sought to end the issue in 2014; however, this resulted only in the PA shifting tactics and making the payments by proxy through the Palestinian Liberation Organisation.

The payment of salaries to terrorists is part of a broader picture where the Palestinian Authority encourages and incentivises terror attacks, despite its formal opposition to political violence. Several PA schools are named after terrorists, including Dalal Mugrahbi, Abu Jihad, and Abu Ali Iyad, who together were responsible for the deaths of over 100 Israeli civilians. Official PA TV also promotes attacks, with one children’s programme calling for the murder of Israelis “as we slaughtered them in your streets”, telling Fatah members their “blood is food for the revolution”.  After an attack, terrorists are rewarded with a generous salary, and those killed by Israeli security forces are then lionised as ‘martyrs’. One terrorist, Muhannad Halabi, who stabbed two Israelis to death in Jerusalem in 2015, was honoured with an official PA table tennis tournament named in his honour three months later.

The letter from Ms Ryan follows a weak response from the government on the topic of prisoners’ salaries. Last December, following a sustained LFI campaign on the issue, the government announced that UK aid to the Palestinian Authority would only pay the salaries of education and healthcare workers directly, rather than going directly to Abbas’ government. However, this did not solve the problem of payments to terrorists, because as a 2014 Department for International Aid Select Committee report noted three years ago, the “payment of UK funds enables the PA to release alternative funds which allow these payments to continue”. Instead, Ms Ryan has asked the government ensure that the PA adheres to the principles of nonviolence laid out the Memorandum of Understanding that governs the UK-PA aid relationship. Such action would tackle the problem directly, in contrast to the government’s indirect and half-hearted attempts to end the practice thus far.