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Two years ago, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered that the amount of money being transferred by the Palestinian Authority to terrorists and their families be deducted immediately from the taxes and tariffs Israel collects for the authority.
“The Palestinian Authority transfers funds to terrorists by various laundering methods,” Netanyahu said, according to an English press release on the Prime Minister’s Office website. “The more severe the acts of terrorism, the greater the amount of funds. Prime Minister Netanyahu has ordered that the entire amount of support for terrorists and their families be deducted from the tax revenues that Israel transfers monthly to the Palestinian Authority. Israel believes that the encouragement of terrorism by the Palestinian leadership – in the form of both incitement and payments to terrorists and their families – constitutes incentive for murder.”
After Netanyahu took no such step, Knesset members from both the coalition and opposition, acting in rare unison, authored legislation requiring by law exactly what the prime minister had ordered. Throughout the legislative process, Netanyahu spoke in favor of the bill. But behind the scenes, he worked to undermine it by insisting on amendments that would at best water it down and at worst render it meaningless.
There were attempts to allow the government to decide each year how much the deduction should be – or whether to make the deduction at all – based on diplomatic and other considerations. Netanyahu repeatedly sent coalition chairmen David Bitan and David Amsalem to ask for delays and revisions.
Had Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and Education Minister Naftali Bennett not stood up to Netanyahu, the bill would not be coming to a final vote in the Knesset on Monday evening. Amsalem asked for a final revision last week. It would have been a much more serious change had Netanyahu gotten his way.
Instead, all that was changed was that rather than giving the deducted money to terror victims, it will be frozen and set aside. The change was requested to protect Israel from international law and passed by a nine-to-one vote, with opposition from only Yisrael Beytenu MK Robert Ilatov, who warned that the money would be the subject of constant international pressure on Israel to give it to the PA.
Northwestern University Law Prof. Eugene Kontrovich mocked the request, saying that “international law is a magic wand they wave around whenever they want something zapped.”
He said a middle ground could have been found between giving the money to terror victims and merely freezing it that would have not been problematic by international law.
Kontrovich suggested that the funds be used for lawsuits of terror victims against the PA, to ensure there is money to collect when people sue the authority. He said using the funds for liens on court judgments from the Palestinians would meet international law, because the money would still belong to the PA.
That idea was considered in the legislative process, but in the end, MKs on the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee were so afraid that reopening the bill would allow Netanyahu to change it completely that they decided to keep it as it was initially written by Yesh Atid MK Elazar Stern.
It is still possible for terror victims to try to obtain those funds for their cases against the PA. Under current Israeli law, those with a court judgment against the PA can ask the Israel Finance Ministry to take the funds. In the past, the ministry has been reluctant to cooperate, but perhaps the new law will make the ministry more helpful.
Shurat Hadin president Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, who has sued the PA on behalf of many terror victims, said the Finance Ministry has been more likely to help with small judgments than with court cases that awarded terror victims with larger sums from the PA.
She said the bill could have been more effective had it been more like the Taylor Force Act, which passed in Congress in March and cuts US aid to the PA until it stops paying terrorists and their families.
“The Taylor Force Act can take away money from the PA if it continues funding terror, because it deals with US aid that is entirely at the Americans’ discretion,” she said. “In our case, it’s the PA’s money, not Israeli money. It’s from taxes they don’t have a mechanism to collect, so we do it under the Oslo accords’ tariff agreement. We can take the funds for punishment and deterrence but it’s still their money.”
So despite what Netanyahu ordered two years ago and what is set to pass in the Knesset Monday, what ended up happening in the US was a much more serious step to stop the PA from funding terror. Monday’s bill cannot be taken for granted, but the force was not in the Knesset legislation but in the law that passed in Congress.