Photo Credit: Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90
Masked PA security forces in Bethlehem block the entrance to the city. March 8, 2020

Criticism arose among Palestinian Authority Arabs following the resumption of security coordination between the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Israel, and is now is expanding to security prisoners (terrorists) jailed in Israel. The prisoners fear that the PA has capitulated under Israeli and international pressure, which could infringe on their rights, and especially their “pay to slay” stipends.

Criticism of the renewal of security coordination stems from the fact that PA head Mahmoud Abbas did not share the decision with the PLO institutions, that it sacrificed reconciliation with Hamas, and that his representatives spoke directly to Israeli military authorities rather than negotiating through diplomatic channels.

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The criticism is now sharpening in view of the fear that Abbas is capitulating on the prisoner issue to please the new US administration and meet the demand of international elements.

The Palestinian Prisoners Authority fears that the PA is currently working to amend the Palestinian law that has so far allowed prisoners to enjoy salaries, and turn those salaries into welfare stipends based on financial need.

Palestinian sources told TPS that during a meeting held with Abbas in October, by Hussein A-Sheikh, the minister in charge of civilian coordination, Majed Faraj, in charge of security coordination, and Mohammad Shtayyeh, the prime minister, the parties agreed that the Prisoners Act must be amended to eliminate the tax crisis and thus show a gesture of goodwill towards Biden’s US and towards the European demand that released prisoners receive funding according to financial need and not according to the years of imprisonment in the Israeli prison.

The receipt of tax money from Israel in the coming days, from which Israel has not deducted the sum of salaries for prisoners since the beginning of the year, also raises the suspicion of PA Arabs in this matter. The salaries are considered the most sensitive issue on the Palestinian street. Many in the PA public already ridicule what the PA presented as a “victory over Israel” in light of the suspicion that it involves harming prisoners.

In a move designed to repeal the change in the law, representatives of the prisoners recently demanded that the PA recruit them to the ranks of its various ministries and its security mechanisms.

Prisoners are now considered PA officials because they are paid, but in practice, they do not have to report to their workplaces, which raises criticism of the PA because it pays them for their terrorist activities and not for being PA officials.

“This is also being used against us in Europe, in the United States, and in Israel as if they were receiving a salary because they killed,” Kadri Abu Bakr, head of the Prisoners Authority explained.

The prisoners’ fear of having their wages reduced, if determined by financial need, is not unfounded: Official and up-to-date data obtained by the Palestinian Media Watch organization from the Prison Service in Israel show that more than 70% of security prisoners are young and single. This will harm their wage conditions significantly.

PA Arabs prisoners oppose this solution in principle, not just “economically,” and argue that they deserve to be defined as “fighters” and not as “needy” or “welfare cases.”

The group of released prisoners is divided into three categories. The first includes those who were imprisoned for up to five years and they currently receive unemployment benefits from the Palestinian Authority according to the years of imprisonment.

The second category includes prisoners who have been imprisoned for 5-10 years and are entitled to a salary allowance of NIS 2,000 or more per month and enjoy preference in accepting positions in the Palestinian Authority offices.

The third group is the most problematic and includes prisoners who have been imprisoned in Israel for more than 10 years. They receive a salary according to the years of imprisonment. Thus, a prisoner who has been imprisoned for 10 years receives at least a salary of NIS 4,500 per month. These prisoners are considered PA officials, without any tangible employment. The number of these stands at about 8,000 prisoners.

A PA Arab source reports that the case of prisoners in Israel who receive wages from the PA is under discussion and it has not yet been decided whether to calculate their wages according to financial need or whether they are considered clerks. The source also says that it is being discussed whether wages should be transferred through the Independence Bank to circumvent Israeli sanctions against banks in which prisoners’ accounts are held.

In 2019, Israel deducted a total of NIS 651 million from the taxes it collects for the Palestinian Authority that it estimates would have gone to pay current and former security prisoners. In the past year, Israel has not deducted this amount, and now, when the Palestinian Authority is expected to receive the tax money within days after Abbas announced that he is re-establishing coordination with Israel, various sources claim that the PA is ready to accept the position of international bodies and turn the prisoners’ salaries into a welfare allowance, a step that is expected to lead to a confrontation between the PA and the security prisoners.

It should also be noted in this context that the Palestinian Authority does not pay salaries to dozens of Hamas prisoners imprisoned after 2007 when Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip. These prisoners often appear on Facebook pages attacking the Palestinian Authority for disrupting their livelihoods. Fatah prisoners who are among Muhammad Dahlan’s supporters have also complained in recent years that the PA discriminates against them and does not pay their salaries.

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Baruch reports on Arab affairs for TPS.
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