'Palestinians reward terrorists from British aid'
Israel objects to Britain over aid indirectly funding Palestinian convicts
by Jake Wallis Simon
During his recent visit to Israel, the Prime Minister delivered a high-profile speech to the Knesset, Israel’s parliament. “In me,” he said, “you have a British Prime Minister whose belief in Israel is unbreakable, and whose commitment to Israel’s security will always be rock solid”.
But according to a senior Israeli government source, behind the scenes Israeli officials were raising serious concerns with the British delegation about the relationship between UK aid money, the Palestinian Authority, and reward payments to terrorists.
The Israeli charge is grave: that British aid to the Palestinian government – worth £343 million between 2011 and 2015 – is funding generous salaries and bonuses to about 5,000 convicted terrorists. This money, they say, not only rewards terror, but also exacerbates the threat by diluting the deterrent of a prison sentence.
At the heart of the allegations is an Israeli NGO called Palestinian Media Watch (PMW), which for years has been monitoring statements by Palestinian Authority officials in Arabic media, as well as gathering documents from security sources.
It has revealed that under 2004 Palestinian legislation known as the Palestinian Law of the Prisoner, people convicted of terror offences are immediately placed on the Palestinian Authority payroll. The salaries are reserved for those “resisting the occupation”, not those guilty of other crimes.
The more serious the offence, the more money is paid. Based on Palestinian documents, PMW says that the longest-serving terrorists receive £2,075 per month, plus bonuses for wives and children. Grants made upon release can be as much as £50,000. The average Palestinian wage is about £312 per month.
In 2013, the Palestinian Authority (PA) paid more than £60 million to those convicted of terror offences; of this, £9 million was paid as bonuses when terrorists were released. In February, the Palestinian Authority announced that this bonus pot would be increased to £27 million.
A component of this money could be interpreted as legitimate welfare payments, allocated to prisoners to spend in the canteen, or to unemployed ex-convicts. But at least £43 million is awarded directly to terrorists, who are perceived to deserve it for “resisting the occupation”.
Britain is a major supporter of the Palestinian Authority, donating about £86 million per year. Dfid maintains that payments to terrorists are not taken directly from the British aid account. But the Palestinian government is heavily reliant on international aid, which accounts for 40 per cent of its £2.5 billion annual budget.
The Palestinian Authority continues to pay between four and six per cent of its own resources to convicted terrorists, a huge sum that is proportionally roughly equivalent to Britain’s entire defence budget (which stands at 4.5 per cent).
For this reason, Israeli officials, together with a growing number of MPs from both sides of the House, are concerned that such generous payments to terrorists are only made possible by the fact that British taxpayer’s money is covering many other areas of Palestinian expenditure.
Indeed, the American investigative reporter Edwin Black has recorded Palestinian officials making statements which show that aid money is the cushion that allows them to comfortably reward terrorists.
When the Sunday Telegraph approached the Palestinian Authority to investigate these claims, officials confirmed that the payments quoted by PMW are “around the real figures”. And they were unapologetic.
“We have nothing to hide,” said Amr Nasser, director of the Ministry of Detainees’ and Ex-Detainees’ Affairs. “The bottom line here is the way those detainees are perceived by the Palestinian people.
“These people are heroes, and freedom fighters, [who] are making this sacrifice for a better future for their children and people as a whole.
“This is a well-run Israeli campaign... aim[ed] at discrediting the Palestinian National Authority, Palestinian resistance to the occupation, and the dignity of Palestinian freedom fighters.”
These “freedom fighters” include men like Abdallah Barghouti, who is serving multiple life sentences for orchestrating attacks that killed 67 Israeli civilians in 2001 and 2002, including at least seven children and a pregnant woman; and Amjad and Hakim Awad, who in 2011 stabbed to death five members of the same family, including two children and a three-month-old baby.
Calculations based on the salary figures in an official 2010 document, verified by Palestinian officials, suggest that Barghouti alone is likely to have received about £100,000.
Dfid argues that these are “welfare payments”. But the Palestinian Authority has made it clear that the salaries are paid because of the high esteem in which these terrorists are held. As Mr Nasser said, “the Palestinian people will not let the families of their heroes starve!” He also confirmed that those guilty of crimes other than terrorism receive no such “welfare payments”.
Sir Gerald Howarth, a Conservative MP, has called for Britain to suspend all aid to the Palestinian Authority until payments to terrorists cease.
“The Palestinian Authority is putting two fingers up to the British taxpayer,” he said. “It is not the job of the hardworking British taxpayer to fund payments to terrorists.
“Taxpayers will be appalled if one single penny is going not to relieve poverty but to line the pockets of those convicted of terrorism. Britain should absolutely be withdrawing aid to the Palestinian Authority until this stops.”
This is not the first time that the Israelis have brought the matter to the attention of the Government. In 2011, PMW’s findings were presented to Dfid by Robert Halfon MP, a Conservative backbencher. At the time, Alan Duncan MP, Minister of State of International Development, dismissed the payments as “social assistance programmes.”
Mr Halfon, however, did not find the Minister’s response satisfactory. “Looking at resolutions coming from the PA itself, it is clearly sated that these payments are salaries,” he said. “In light of this evidence, I will continue to press the Government to investigate how aid money to the PA is used.”
He is not the only one in Parliament to harbour such concerns. The Sunday Telegraph has learnt that in January, MPs representing the International Development Committee – the group that scrutinises Britain’s £8 billion annual overseas aid budget – quietly asked PMW to produce an updated version of the report, as part of its review of British aid spending in the Middle East.
“It is like Britain paying money to the IRA so long as it is only used in soup kitchens,” said Itamar Marcus, one of the co-authors of the report. “The UK cannot close its eyes and pretend that it may not be UK money promoting terror.”
But the Government refuses to consider the notion that propping up the Palestinian government is enabling it to pay salaries to terrorists.
A Dfid spokesman said: “UK taxpayer funds do not pay for Palestinian prisoners. British funding to the Palestinian Authority is used for the sole purpose of paying the salaries of civil servants, who are responsible for providing health, education and other essential services, including security.”
By contrast, a number of other countries are increasingly alarmed by the Palestinian policy.
Canada refuses to make any payments to the Palestinian Authority, instead only funding humanitarian development projects carried out by international organisations. “Canada will not tolerate any misuse of Canadian assistance to support terrorism,” said a Canadian government spokesman.
Norway has made it clear to the Palestinian government that “any policy that can be seen as a policy of reward for terrorism is not acceptable”, and that as a major aid contributor will “continue to express concern” over this practice.
The issue has been debated in the Dutch parliament, as well as in Washington. And according to a Palestinian official, a European Union delegation is currently in the region investigating the matter.
For its part, however, the Palestinian Authority remains characteristically belligerent. Speaking on official Palestinian television in November, Issa Karake, the Palestinian Authority’s minister of prisoner’s affairs, said:
“The Europeans want their money that comes to us to remain clean, not to go to families of those they claim to be terrorists. [But European countries] need to renounce this occupation mentality. These are heroes, self-sacrificing fighters... We appreciate the people of the revolution and are proud of them.”