PMW report about PA salaries to terrorists
leads to debate in Norwegian Parliament
PMW's new report "The PA's Billion Dollar Fraud" was presented to officials of the Norwegian Foreign Ministry and Members of Parliament. The report exposes that the Palestinian Authority continues to pay salaries to terrorist prisoners, contrary to its claim to donor countries to have stopped funding these salaries already in 2014. The report sparked a debate among three Norwegian political parties - all from the coalition - about whether to continue funding the PA. It also led to a debate in parliament with the Foreign Minister.
The following is the transcript of the debate in Norwegian Parliament on April 27, 2016, as translated by PMW:
MP Hans Olav Syversen (Christian Democrats):
My question is to the Foreign Minister.
In this room, we have previously debated that the Palestinian Authority rewards those who perpetrate terror against Israel. Barth Eide, [Foreign Minister] Brende's predecessor, brought this up with the Palestinian Authority and demanded that the [salary] program be stopped - which was also promised [by the PA]. We are not talking about small change here. More than several hundred million Norwegian kroner a year go to people who have perpetrated terror in Israel. And the more severe the terrorist attack, the higher salary one [the terrorist] has received.
If one looks at it systematically, it [terror] is also praised by individuals and groups that are very close to the PA, and they encourage schools and other organizations to name football tournaments, basketball tournaments and whatever else after terrorists. This is something we know. (PMW notes that MP Syversen was present at the PMW lecture in parliament where PMW documented this to MPs.)
What has been done from the Palestinian side? Well, they've just unscrewed a sign saying "Ministry [of Prisoners’ Affairs]" and put up another saying "Commission of Prisoners’ Affairs" - but it is the same money that goes to exactly the same people. (i.e., terrorists.) [These are people] who in my and the Christian Democratic Party’s opinion undermine that which is meant to build peace between Israel and Palestine.
So my question is: What consequences does the foreign minister believe this should have on Norwegian aid to the Palestinian Authority?
Foreign Minister Brende (Conservative Party):
Thanks to MP Syversen for bringing up an important question, which also provides an opportunity to put this into a slightly broader context.
First, I must say that the Palestinian Authority based in Ramallah is doing incredibly important work on behalf of the Palestinians, who are under pressure. They do not have their own area at their disposal. We know there is much injustice being committed against the Palestinians in general, and it has been an important task for Norway, along with many other European countries and the United States, to support the Palestinian Authority - not least their work within health and education and to build the necessary governing institutions, also in Ramallah.
There are many Palestinians who actually are imprisoned in Israel for no reason, and where you can seriously question the due process. These funds that MP Syversen referred to also go to these groups. But for Norway, it is of course totally unacceptable that Norwegian aid funds should go to the families of those who have carried out criminal acts against Israelis, meaning Palestinians who are in Israeli prison. That is totally irrelevant (sic. He possibly meant ‘unacceptable’.) Just last week I received a confirmation from the [PA] Minister of Finance Bishara that this does not happen.
So one must realize that the Palestinian Authority has tax revenue. They have their own income, they get reimbursed for revenues also from Israel so that they have their own income, which they can use for various purposes. I haven't heard that the EU, the US, other countries, or Israel will stop the transfer of rightful tax revenues to the Palestinians because they have such a [prisoner] program. But I promise you I will bring this up again and increase the pressure on the Palestinians because this is not something that serves the Palestinian Authority.
MP Hans Olav Syversen (Christian Democrats):
It is safe to say that it does not serve them, because what happens is that they are working against what is really the goal with Norwegian aid money. The paradox is – [while] the foreign minister pointed out that money should go to health and education - fewer funds go to precisely health and education because they [the PA] are spending money on this business (i.e., salaries to terrorists). You can call it what you want, but it is only an intermediate station, which is now called the Commission of Prisoners’ Affairs. The money is increased by the same [amount] as it was [being increased] within the ministry, and exactly the same amount of money goes [to prisoners]. The comparison with Israel just does not work. This is taking place after the Oslo Accords and it is the Palestinians' own funds. They can do whatever they want with it. We have a responsibility to ensure that the money Norway gives [to the PA] will go to entirely different things than to subsidize terrorism.
So my question is: In what way will the foreign minister follow up on this, or is it [enough] to just say that you do not like it, and then you're done with it?
Foreign Minister Brende (Conservatives):
I have made it clear that this is an unacceptable practice by the Palestinian authorities. In a letter to Norway in 2013, we received guarantees that Norwegian funds will not be used for the programs that the Palestinians have established for Palestinians who are serving time in an Israeli prison. I brought this up again last week, [and did so in a] very clear, crystal clear [manner], with [PA] Minister of Finance Bishara, and he said that not one krone of the Norwegian aid funds is going to this. But I added that I also think they should discontinue the program.
Next week, I have a scheduled meeting with President Abbas, and I promise MP Syversen that not only will I once again have the guarantees repeated that Norwegian aid money does not go to this - which it doesn’t - but I will also use the opportunity to say to President Abbas, that with all the challenges the Palestinians now face, not least because of the lack of opportunity for development in the West Bank, it is in their best interest to abolish this program for its [the PA’s] own legitimacy’s sake.
The Parliament President:
There will be follow-up questions - first MP Astrid Aarhus Byrknes.
MP Astrid Aarhus Byrknes (Christian Democrats):
It is very good that this topic will be discussed with President Abbas. Throughout the ages, the main objective of Norwegian aid has been development and combatting poverty. The aid to the Palestinian areas, however, has had another political starting point, namely working toward peaceful conflict resolution based on [the idea] that Israel and Palestine should live together as good neighbors. Therefore it is very sad to hear about these cash rewards to imprisoned terrorists, convicted terrorists who receive payments higher than the salary of government officials. They are being glorified - at sports tournaments, at youth gatherings - and Fatah actively uses both its Facebook and Twitter accounts in this area. So I wonder: Does the foreign minister think that this is compatible with the main objective of the Norwegian Palestine-aid, which is to promote mutual trust and the basis for a peace process with Israel?
Foreign Minister Brende (H):
Norway has a good relationship with both Israel and the Palestinians. When I'm in a meeting with the Israeli authorities, there are many questions we need to address, not least the lack of creation of a two-state solution. The growing Israeli settlements in the West Bank also create a climate in Ramallah in the West Bank which is very demanding. But there is no excuse for establishing a program in which money is given to Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prison, which also includes those who have committed criminal offenses. The Palestinians should stop doing that now - we have requested that [of them]. But what is most crucial is that Norwegian aid money is not going there.
You may think that [Norway] should stop giving aid to Palestine and the Palestinians altogether, because of the existence of this program, and to ensure that Norwegian money will not fund this.
If we are to begin [thinking] this way, I think we will find that there are quite a few aid-receiving countries that have different programs with which we do not agree. So it becomes a very demanding operation, which I believe we should think through carefully, and which neither the US nor Israel themselves have advocated for.
The Parliament President:
Anniken Huitfeldt - for follow-up questions.
MP Anniken Huitfeldt (Labour):
I want to express support for the Foreign Minister's efforts to strengthen the Palestinian Authority, but also for the demands the foreign minister quite clearly is presenting to the Palestinians. The danger now is that the responsibility of the Palestinian Authority for schooling and medical care is under strong pressure. There are often other countries in the Middle East that are now receiving funding from the West. We also see that there is much comprehensive work to be done in Gaza to give people proper health care and education, and that in itself helps to prevent extremism. What will the foreign minister do to strengthen the welfare system on the Palestinian side?
Foreign Minister Brende (Conservative):
That was a question with an opposite starting point. The Palestinian Authority is currently one of the largest recipients of Norwegian aid, but we give aid primarily to specific projects in health and education, which funds rebuilding destroyed areas in Gaza. I fully agree with MP Huitfeld that we should not underestimate the potential of increased violent extremism and radicalization if there is no political horizon and no political hope for the creation of a two-state solution. If [the situation] continues to evolve into such a difficult humanitarian direction as we now see in Gaza, it is not just a sore spot, but a powder keg that could explode at any time, and we have seen in this region that we have underestimated the risk associated with fragile states.
[Norwegian Parliament, April 27, 2016]
[Transcript available at Norwegian Parliament's website here
and from Spørretimen at Parliament as it appears on MIFF here]