Withholding millions from PA, Smotrich says he has ‘no interest’ in its existence

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich on Sunday signed a decree to block NIS 139 million ($39.6 million) in tax revenue from the Palestinian Authority and redirect it to families of terror victims, as part of punitive measures against the PA’s international legal action against Israel, decided upon by the government.

During a press conference, Smotrich was asked whether he was concerned the move could bring about the collapse of the PA, answering: “As long as the Palestinian Authority encourages terror and is an enemy, I have no interest for it to continue to exist. “

Smotrich hailed a years-long campaign to offset the PA’s regular payments to terror convicts and to families of dead Palestinian attackers, which Israel and other critics say offer a direct incentive for terror, calling it a “just struggle…not only in providing retroactive justice , but also as a deterrent.”

Israel has made such deductions in the past, following 2018 legislation on the matter, but only partially upholds the policy, as officials are keenly aware that the PA is dangerously close to financial collapse.

“There is no solace for the families of those murdered, but there is justice,” Smotrich said.

The move is one of the steps approved by the government on Friday to penalize the Palestinians in retaliation for their push for the United Nation’s highest judicial body to give its opinion on Israel’s control of the West Bank. The decision highlights the tough line the new government is taking towards the Palestinians, at a time of spiking violence in the West Bank and with peace talks a distant memory.

Illustrative: Police and security personnel at the scene of a terror attack in Jerusalem, on November 23, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussil/Flash90)

The Palestinian Authority’s practice of paying allowances to those convicted of carrying out terror attacks and to the families of those killed while carrying out attacks — often referred to by some Israeli officials as a pay-to-slay policy — has been defended by Palestinian leaders, who described them as a form of social welfare and necessary compensation for victims of Israel’s military justice system in the West Bank.

Smotrich told reporters on Sunday that as long as the PA “operates according to agreements, takes care of civilian life and thwarts terror activities in cooperation with Israel’s security establishment, then, of course, it is possible to have relations with the authority.

“This is on the condition that the authority does not resort to terror,” he added.

Abie Moses, the head of the national Organization of Victims of Terrorism, praised the “important decision,” but added it was only a first step among several demands by those hurt in attacks.

“The inauguration of a new Knesset is an opportunity to atone for the long-standing neglect of the victims of enemy hostilities, and to allocate the necessary resources in order to take care of the rights of thousands who lost their loved ones, who are struggling to survive and trying to continue to live,” he said.

Attorney Avi Segal of Israeli legal advocacy group Shurat HaDin thanked Smotrich and the government for the decision, adding “there is empirical research” that cutting off funds was crucial to preventing terror.

Ron Alon, a relative of terror victims killed in a 2002 Jerusalem attack, called the move “a historic day,” echoing Smotrich’s words about both doing justice for terror victims and potentially deterring future would-be-assailants.

Other punitive measures against the PA include the revocation of travel permits for top Palestinian officials that allow them to travel easily in and out of the West Bank, unlike ordinary Palestinians, and the freezing of Palestinian construction in parts of the West Bank.

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