European Crackdown on Use of Funds Donated to Palestinian Authority

By Noga Tarnopolsky | The Media Line

May 16, 2016

European Union flag

British and Norwegian representatives remonstrate against payments made to convicted terrorists

[Jerusalem] Israeli calls for greater scrutiny of European funds donated to the Palestinian Authority appear to be bearing fruit. This week, Norwegian and British representatives demanded assurances from Palestinian Authority (PA) leaders that none of the millions of Euros donated to help build Palestinian infrastructure finds its way into payments by the Palestinian government to the families of terrorists convicted of attacks against Israelis.

According to an Israeli security cabinet memorandum prepared in 2014, based on Palestinian budgetary statements, the PA paid $75.5 million in stipends to convicted terrorists and their families in 2012 and 2013.

The PA grants prisoners bonuses when they are released from prison, the sum growing in correlation to the time they spent behind bars.

This week, Norway’s foreign minister, Børge Brende told the Oslo newspaper Dagen that in a meeting earlier this month with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, he emphasized that funding of this nature was unacceptable and should be abolished. “I emphasized that with the political and economic challenges that Palestinians now face, it pays to abolish this scheme.”

Abbas, according to Norwegian reports, told Brende that Norwegian funds were not being used to pay prisoners’ salaries or to give them bonuses, a claim Brende said he accepted.

“Norwegian support to Palestine goes to state-building and institutional development, and it is in everyone’s interest that it continue,” Brende was quoted as saying in the same Norwegian.

The bulk of the Palestinian government’s operating budget is comprised of donations, and there are growing concerns that oversight is rampant. In 2014, at the time of British Prime Minister David Cameron’s visit to Israel, the Israeli government claimed that British aid to the Palestinian government –totaling $493 million between 2011 and 2015 – had been used to pay salaries and bonuses granted to about 5,000 convicted terrorists.

This year, the Department for International Development, (DfID), the British equivalent of USAID, will transfer $36.66 million to the Palestinian Authority.

On Sunday, Michael McCann, a former Labour member of parliament who now heads the Israel-Britain Alliance, claimed in a statement that “I walked into a meeting with the PA finance minister and asked: ‘Do you pay convicted terrorists a monthly salary, with higher payments awarded to criminals who have spent more time in prison?’ His response was clear: ‘Yes.’”

There was, McCann said, no need to uncover an “elaborate money trail, phony names and bogus bank accounts,” adding that “our money goes to the PA via the World Bank with the objective of empowering the PA to manage its financial affairs. Once the cash is transferred, we no longer control how it is spent.” The British government, he said, earmarks its funds for specific programs, but lack of supervision does little more than “incentivize murder.”

A senior European diplomat told The Media Line that he believes the British claim is connected to the internal political positioning that is taking place ahead of the June referendum on the United Kingdom’s possible withdrawal from the EU.

Internal domestic pressure in the case of the UK is probably linked to the referendum,” he said. “Brexit [the nickname for Britain’s possible exit from Europe] doesn’t have anything to bite on since we don’t fund payments to prisoners,” he added, referring not to British donations to the Palestinian Authority but to donations in general made by the Brussels-based European Union.

“Obviously no EU money goes to funding terrorists,” he added.

Jonathan Arkush, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the principal body representing the UK’s Jewish community, said his organization supported aid for people in need, but cautioned “until DfID can be absolutely sure that money is going to the right people, and not funding terrorists and incitement, either directly or indirectly, we call for the aid to be suspended while a rigorous review takes place.”

Dore Gold, the director general of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spoke with Norway’s ambassador to Israel, Jon Hanssen-Bauer, to express “Israel’s appreciation with the decision taken by Norway’s Foreign Minister Børge Brende regarding Norway’s financial contribution to the Palestinian Authority.” Gold added that “Israel supports aid to the Palestinian Authority as long as such aid does not incentivize terrorism. It is outrageous,” he said in a statement released to the media, “that killing Israelis has become a source of income for many in the PA. This completely contradicts what peace is all about. These payments incentivize terrorism and must be stopped.”

Several countries have expressed alarm about the Palestinian policy.

Canada funds only humanitarian development projects carried out by international organizations, not the PA. The matter has been debated in the Dutch parliament and in Congress. The European Union has also investigated the matter.

Speaking with The Media Line, Jamal Dajani, director of Strategic Communications and Media for the Palestinian Prime Minister, Rami Hamdallah, said “I’m not privy to the alleged conversation Mr. Michael McCann was referring to. Also, we have not received any official statement from the Norwegian government.”

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