Rebuffing U.S. Claims, Palestinians Vow to Continue to Pay Terrorists' Families

Senior Palestinian official says cutting pay would undermine the Palestinian Authority: 'Every other household is the family of a prisoner or martyr'

Palestinian demonstrators hold up placards bearing pictures of US President Donald Trump, denouncing his visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories with the Arabic slogan: "US policy is shameful to humanity" during a protest on May 22, 2017 at the Qalandia checkpoint
ABBAS MOMANI/AFP

Palestinian officials have denied U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's claim that they will stop financial support for the families of convicted Palestinian terrorists.

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Issa Karaka, head of prisoner affairs for the Palestinian Authority, told Haaretz that no such decision could ever possibly be made, since it would spell the end of the PA with the Palestinian public.

"Almost every other household among the Palestinian people is the family of a prisoner or martyr," Karaka said. "Anybody who thinks he can execute a decision like that is badly wrong," he said.

>> Explained: The possible implications of cutting off payments to families of Palestinian terrorists <<

"By virtue of my job as head of the [prisoners'] administration, I know that the allowances were paid this month, and they will be next month too. I have no information that they won't be paid to the prisoners and families who receive them, based on the clear, known parameters under Palestinian law," he added.

A senior Palestinian official who met with U.S. officials said the Trump administration understands the complexity of the situation. They said the Americans want to find a formula that would bar certain people – for example, failed sucide bombers or terrorists "with blood on their hands" – from getting stipends. However, as of yet there is no agreement.

The Palestinian Prisoners Club also confirmed that there has been no change to stipends for prisoners, adding that no complaints had arrived from the families themselves. Since the implications of any decision to halt stipends would be so huge, no Palestinian leadership exists that could make a decision like that just to gratify someone or other, said Qadura Fares, director of the Palestinian Prisoners Club

If any such proposal could be passed at all, added Fares, it would have to be in the framework of a comprehensive agreement that would secure a large win for the Palestinians, like independence and self-definition. "We aren't there," Fares said.

Both Palestinian organizations confirmed, however, that no salaries or stipends were paid to 277 released Palestinian prisoners in the Gaza Strip, mainly members of Hamas, some of whom were released in exchange for Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in 2011. This was not a capitulation to Israeli and American dictate, the Prisoners Authority said, but just more pressure by the PA on Hamas.

Israel: No change in PA policy

Tillerson had said Tuesday the PA has changed its policy of paying families of convicted terrorists and intends to stop supporting them, as a result of pressure from the Trump administration.

"The president [Trump] raised it, and I had a bilateral meeting with [Abbas] later and I told him, 'You absolutely have to stop this,'" Tillerson said.

He added that the Palestinians have actually changed their policy: "They have changed that policy and their intent is to cease the payments to the families of those who have committed murder or violence against others. We have been very clear with them that this [payment] is simply not acceptable to us."

Israel on Wednesday rejected Tillerson's claims. "We are not aware of any change in the Palestinian Authority's policy, and as far as we know they are still paying funds to terrorists' families," a senior Israeli official said.

"The Palestinian Authority continues to praise, incite to and encourage terror through financial support," the official added.