On Monday the 2nd of July 2018, the Israeli Knesset voted 87-15 to withhold an equivalent portion of tax collected on the behalf of the Palestinian Authority (PA) over welfare payments made to Palestinians “martyrs” of Israeli conflict. These payments referred to as the “martyrs’ fund” by the PA or the “pay-to-slay policy” by Israeli politicians and media are stipends which are meted out to approximately 35,000 families of Palestinians who have either been imprisoned or killed by Israeli forces. The stipends totalling approximately $330 million account for around seven percent of the Authorities annual $5 billion 2018 budget. PA leadership vowed not to cease the payments despite Israeli and US pressure.
In a statement on Tuesday the 3rd, spokesperson for PA President Mahmoud Abbas, Nabil Abu Rudeineh claimed that the decision amounted to a “declaration of war.” Rudeineh furthered this, stating that the PA leadership would make “important decisions to face this dangerous decision” which include appeals to the International Criminal Court and/or the United Nations Security Council. The new bout of tax withholdings comes after Israel declared that it would also reduce its monthly payments by around NIS $120 million in compensation for water, electricity and hospital supplied to Palestinians.
The stipends are seen by pro-Palestinian commentators as compensation and support for who PA president Abbas labelled “victims of the [Israeli] occupation” and their families. For the Israelis, the stipends are seen as an incentive for Palestinian’s to commit more atrocious acts of terror. According to PA authorities, payments made are higher to those serving longer sentences for more serious crimes. The Israeli move purporting to reduce the motivation for and likely hood of terror attacks on its citizens can rather be seen as another in a long line of harmful tax withdrawals that are politically motivated. According to Saeb Erekat, secretary general of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, this development “is a result of the decisions of US President Donald Trump, who supports Israel.” The US senate earlier this year proposed and passed a similar bill, the Taylor Force Act, which was in response to the 2016 fatal stabbing of an American military veteran visiting Israel by a Palestinian. The Taylor Force Act cut US aid to Palestine unless the PA took action to nullify the ‘martyrs’ fund’.
The tax clearance system whereby Israel collects the taxes on all Palestinian imports and then transfers the profits monthly is a result of the Paris Accord. Signed by the Palestinian Liberation Organization in 1994, the accord resulted in the creation of the PA. This system of taxation is seen as an anarchic form of state oppression that keeps Palestine interests subordinate to Israel. All Palestinian imports are forced first through Israel where it collects taxes which account for approximately 75 percent of the total tax revenue of Palestinian territories.
The decision is seen as indicative of a practice that exists merely as a means of political control. Senior Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi vocalized the sentiments that Palestinians are decrying that Israel is “stealing Palestinian funds” for “if we [Palestine] were free we wouldn’t need Israel to collect [our] customs.” Sentiments such as this seem to operationally call for a revaluation of the quarter century old accord and demand state sovereignty. The move by Israel is a continuation of a decades old conflict that threatens more bloodshed and prolonged violence, with fears of reactionary conflict from the decision emerging. It is a conflict that must be resolved not through capitulation to larger geopolitical powers and further constraints but rather a commitment to open and free dialogue with the intention of regional peace rather than regional domination.