For the record, this is not a defense of Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas or of funding terrorists. It is simply an explanation of what is taking place. Nonetheless, it is worth noting that the idea of ending payments to Palestinian terrorists and their families is a challenging one, to say the least. Old habits, especially of hate, are hard to break.
The practice of paying salaries to terrorists and the families of "martyrs" is as old as the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which was founded in 1964. It did not start after the establishment of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in 1994. Nor did this practice start after Abbas was elected as president of the PA in January 2005.
Prior to the establishment of the PA, the PLO relied solely on Arab and Islamic financial aid to pay salaries to imprisoned terrorists and the families of those killed in terror attacks against Israel.
But after most of the Arab countries turned their backs on the PLO, following its support for Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait and the subsequent establishment of the PA, the Europeans and Americans became the major donors to the Palestinians -- including payments to the terrorists and their families.
The PLO is not the only organization that rewards terrorists and their families. Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other Palestinian groups have also been paying monthly stipends to terrorists and their kin. This is their way of expressing their gratitude to those who have chosen to "sacrifice" their lives by trying to murder Jews. It is also their way of encouraging young people to join the war of terrorism against Israel. The financial aid sends a specific message: Palestinians who are prepared to die in the service of murdering Jews need not worry about the welfare of their families.
In the past few decades, various Palestinian groups have used the payments to buy loyalty and recruit new members. Because Fatah -- the dominant party of the PA -- has always reaped the largest share of Arab, Islamic and Western donations, it was able to recruit the largest number of loyalists and members. Headed by Abbas, Fatah terrorists receive the highest salaries for their "contribution" to the Palestinian cause.
The more years a Fatah terrorist serves in Israeli prison, the higher the salary he or she receives. Some Fatah terrorists held in Israeli prison are said to receive monthly stipends of up to $4,000. Many of them are also rewarded with top jobs in both Fatah and the PA.
Take, for example, the case of Karim Younes, a Fatah terrorist who has been in prison for over three decades for kidnapping and murdering an Israeli soldier. Recently, Younes was appointed as member of the Fatah Central Committee, one of a number of key decision-making bodies dominated by Abbas loyalists. As a member of the Fatah Central Committee, Younes will now be entitled to thousands of dollars each month.
In his recent meeting with US presidential envoys Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt in Ramallah, an enraged Mahmoud Abbas rejected their demand that he halt payments to terrorists and their families.
Some of Abbas's aides have gone as far as describing the demand as "crazy," arguing that it will instigate instability and turn many Palestinians against their leaders. One of Abbas's advisors was quoted as accusing Kushner and Greenblatt of serving as "advisors" to Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Abbas is also well aware that his life would be in danger if he stops the payments, because he will be killed by the same terrorists he and other Palestinian leaders have been praising and promoting for many years.
In his recent meeting with US presidential envoys Jason Greenblatt (left) and Jared Kushner (center) in Ramallah, an enraged Mahmoud Abbas (right) rejected their demand that he halt payments to terrorists and their families. (Photo by Thaer Ghanaim/PPO via Getty Images)
Abbas's argument that halting the payments would turn his people against him is not baseless. In fact, in an attempt to appease Israel and the Trump Administration, Abbas has already cut off payments to scores of terrorists and their families, particularly those who are not necessarily associated with his Fatah faction.
In the past few weeks, dozens of former Palestinian prisoners and their families have staged daily protests against Abbas's decision to cut off their salaries. They are accusing Abbas of bowing to Israeli and American pressure, with some dubbing him a "traitor."
Abbas and other Palestinian leaders can only blame themselves, however, for the backlash on the Palestinian street following the decision to halt the payment of salaries to some terrorists and their families. After all, it was these leaders who in the first place recruited the terrorists and encouraged them to launch terror attacks against Israel, and promised that they would care for their families if they were imprisoned or killed. For decades, Abbas and other Palestinian leaders have heaped praise on Palestinian terrorists, calling them "heroes" and "freedom fighters" who sacrifice for their people. The "sacrifice," to clarify, means murdering and wounding Jews.
Under Abbas and his predecessor, Yasser Arafat, countless institutions have been established to support terrorists and their families. At one point, they even set up a special ministry called the Ministry of Detainees and Ex-Detainees Affairs. Its main goal: "to ensure a decent life for prisoners and care for their children and their families." Why should any Palestinian go to university and search for a job when he can make a "decent living" murdering Jews?
In 2014, after protests from Western donors, Abbas abolished the ministry. However, the decision turned out to be nothing but a cosmetic change intended to dupe the donors. The ministry continues to function, but under a different name: Commission of Detainees and Ex-Detainees Affairs. Abbas defended the decision by claiming that the new commission was now part of the PLO, and not the PA government. This is like claiming that the House of Representatives and the Senate are two different bodies that are not linked to the United States government.
Palestinian terrorists have become an integral part of a culture that has long been glorifying and promoting acts of terrorism against Israel. Generation after generation, Palestinians have been taught that prisoners and terrorists killed by Israel are the "esteemed sons of the revolution," the "untouchables." The official Palestinian narrative is that these men were imprisoned or killed for nothing but "resisting Israel." This narrative has successfully concealed the truth concerning the imprisonment or death of Palestinian terrorists.
Faced with a new reality in which many in the international community are no longer willing to have their taxpayer money designated for terrorists and their families, Abbas now finds himself trapped between what for him are two terrible moves.
He is currently scurrying to explain to his people why suddenly it has become hard to pay salaries to the very terrorists he trained and continues to glorify by naming streets, public squares and sports centers after them. His people, of course, do not buy his excuses, and many are accusing him of serving Israeli and American interests by abandoning the "good boys" of the "revolution."
It will take a long time, and a massive shift in attitude, before Abbas or any other Palestinian leader manages to dry up the funds that support terrorists and their families. Such a plan is doomed from the start, unless these leaders reverse their behavior and embark on a process of de-radicalizing their people. This will require a drastic about-face in their existing narrative of violence, as well as a move toward a culture of peace -- precisely the issue about which Abbas recently lied so disrespectfully when meeting with US President Donald Trump.
Judging from Abbas's rage-response to the demand to halt payments to terrorists and their families, it seems that Abbas and his cohorts in Ramallah plan to continue their same old antics.
Bassam Tawil is a Muslim based in the Middle East.