Israel loans millions to help Palestinians avert virus-related crisis; will they use it for terror?

May 14, 2020 by Israel Kasnett -
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In what can be considered an unusual turn of events for the Middle East, former Fatah terrorist Mohammad Aref Massad has asked Israel’s High Court to prevent the government from transferring tax-revenue funds to the Palestinian Authority.

Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a meeting of the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah on May 7, 2020. Photo by Flash90.

Massad, who did time in Israeli prison for carrying out attacks against Israelis during the First Intifada, did so on the pretext that the money is being used to fund terrorism and corruption. He asked that the funds instead be transferred to Palestinian workers and needy families.

Massad’s timing is perfect.

Last week, Israel withheld NIS 450 million from the P.A. as part of the anti-“Pay-for-Slay” program that seeks to deny Palestinian terrorists and their families from receiving stipends. On Saturday, parts of Israel’s anti-terror legislation went into effect in Judea and Samaria. But on Sunday, Israel raised some eyebrows when it transferred NIS 800 million (more than $225 million) as a loan to the P.A. to assist it in dealing with the financial effects of COVID-19 as an advance payment on tax revenues Israel collects on behalf of the Palestinians.

Maurice Hirsch, head of legal strategies at Palestinian Media Watch (PMW), told JNS that while it is “unbelievable” that Israel would transfer so much money to the P.A. at a time when it’s seeking to prevent it from funding and inciting terror, “there are three elements here that are all part of the same puzzle.”

The first, he noted, is the anti-“Pay-for-Slay” anti-terror law that was legislated in 2016, passed in 2018, and has finally been applied to Judea and Samaria. The part of the law being applied now provides that any bank that transfers money to terrorists or their families is liable.

PMW has written to the heads of the different banks in the P.A. areas, warning them that if they continue to provide bank accounts through which the P.A. pays salaries to terrorist prisoners after May 9, they could face personal criminal liability, as well as exposing their banks to civil lawsuits from terror victims.

This prompted Palestinian banks as well as banks harbouring funds that go to terrorists to inform many Palestinians they need to collect their money, close their accounts and get out.

Indeed, some branches of the Cairo Amman Bank, based in Jordan, were attacked last Friday in Jenin, Jericho and Ramallah by angry protesters over the decision to close many accounts.

Hirsch explained that pursuing the banks makes much more sense since going after individual terrorists “is like putting a Band-Aid on cancer.”

If Israel stops the money in the middle between the P.A. and the terrorist—i.e., the banks—“you are more likely to get greater results, and that is what we tried to do.”

‘It doesn’t get any more absurd than that’

The second element, according to Hirsch, is the Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act (ATCA) of 2018, and the Promoting Security and Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act (PSJVTA) of 2019. These two recent amendments to the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) have significant implications for U.S. aid to the Palestinians and U.S. courts’ ability to exercise jurisdiction over Palestinian entities.

PSJVTA, which came into effect in December 2019, in a way reverses ATCA, which says that a defendant consents to personal jurisdiction in the United States for lawsuits related to international terrorism if the defendant accepts U.S. foreign aid.

After the P.A. requested to not receive such aid so as to sidestep this legislation and avoid being brought to court on terrorism charges, Congress passed the PSJVTA, which eliminates the defendant’s acceptance of U.S. foreign aid as a trigger of consent to personal jurisdiction. Instead, PSJVTA says that any P.A. or PLO payments related to terrorist acts that kill or injure a U.S. national act is a trigger of consent to personal jurisdiction.

Thus, PSJVTA seeks to force the P.A. to pay damages to U.S. terror victims and their families, whether or not the P.A. receives U.S. aid.

The third element that ties all this together is that NIS 800 million loan.

Hirsch questioned the logic behind the Israeli government’s decision to transfer the money, noting that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in coordination with Defense Minister Naftali Bennett and National Security Council chief Meir Ben-Shabbat, all agreed to do so.

“It is unbelievable,” he said, incredulously. “This is Israeli taxpayer money. It just means that the P.A. is now free to pay salaries to terrorists. It is absolutely nuts!”

“Bereaved families are now paying taxes, which are going to terrorists who killed their children,” he added.

Furthermore, “Israel is now funding the P.A. to attack it at the ICC [International Criminal Court],” he said. “It doesn’t get any more absurd than that.”

On top of the money Israel is transferring to the P.A., the European Union just transferred €38 million (about $41 million) to the P.A. as part of the €71 million (nearly $77 million) it pledged.

Even more, the P.A. continues to receive funds with which it pays terrorists. Yossi Kuperwasser, a senior intelligence and security expert and a fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, told JNS that the EU has a form that aid recipients must sign, confirming that they are not involved in terrorism.

According to Kuperwasser, 160 Palestinian NGOs rejected the obligation to sign such a document and the EU caved, paving the way for funds to reach these organizations, some of which incite and fund terrorism.

A popular sentiment among analysts and policymakers has been that the P.A. would collapse if Israel withholds funds.

Kuperwasser’s response: “Nonsense. If the Palestinians feel they need money, all they need to do is stop paying terrorists.”

He said the fact that the E.U. continues to fund terror organizations and Israel withholds funds—but then gives the P.A. millions—is “totally believable and unbelievable at the same time.”

It remains to be seen whether Massad’s efforts to prevent funds from reaching the P.A. will work, but at least his petition is a start.

As Kuperwasser remarked, “It is high time we do something about it.”

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