Even as the Palestinian Authority is complaining of a severe fiscal crisis that has made it hard for it to pay its employees, it has substantially increased the allowances it pays to Palestinian prisoners in Israel.
The increase, first reported on Channel 2 television on Monday, means that many prisoners are allotted stipends bigger than the average Palestinian salary. The PA rejected claims that these allowances encourage terror.
Qadura Fares, head of the Palestinian Prisoners Society, told Haaretz Monday night that the stipends go solely to the prisoners' families, not the prisoners themselves. Every country in the world offers assistance to prisoners' families so they don't go hungry, he said, and the PA is no different.
But the extent of the stipend depends on the prisoners, not on the size of financial situation of their families.
The PA has always paid allowances to security prisoners, meaning those jailed by Israel for terrorist rather than criminal activity, and it legislated a special law to this effect in 2003.
Until last year, some of the allowances weren't particularly large. A prisoner sentenced to five years or less, for instance, would get about NIS 1,000 per month, while those sentenced to more than 25 years got NIS 4,000 a month.
But according to a document obtained by Channel 2, the stipends were increased by hundreds of percent in early 2011.
The document, signed by PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, shows that a prisoner serving three to five years now gets about NIS 2,000 a month - equivalent to the average Palestinian wage. Prisoners serving more than 30 years earn a whopping NIS 12,000 per month.
In addition, prisoners from East Jerusalem get an extra bonus of NIS 300 per month, while Arab Israelis get a bonus of NIS 500 per month.
These stipends now eat up a significant portion of the PA's budget - and essentially, the international community is being asked to pay for them: In another two weeks, Fayyad plans to ask the PA's donor states to give him additional money.
The increase in the stipends last year, said Fares, was part of a broader reform of the PA's welfare payments.
Israel, he noted, protested the increase to the donor states at the time. But after European Union representatives and the Quartet's special envoy, Tony Blair, came to Ramallah to hear the PA's explanation, Fares said, they understood the PA's rationale and dropped their demand that the stipends be cut.
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