The Misdirections of Palestinian PM Mohammed Shtayyeh
Dec 2, 2020 | Judy Maynard
While there may be two sides to every story, this does not make them equally true. Palestinian Authority (PA) Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh has been on something of a diplomatic offensive of late and, for those who value truth, “offensive” is an appropriate word.
On November 17 Shtayyeh was guest speaker at a webinar organised by the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), an influential non-partisan think tank.
Maurice Hirsch, Director of Legal Strategies at Israeli NGO Palestinian Media Watch, criticised Shtayyeh’s attempts to deceive his audience, and particularly his justification of the PA’s huge outlays on salaries to imprisoned and released terrorists and the families of those killed in the act, dubbed the “pay-for slay” policy.
Asked whether these payments reward and encourage violence against Israel, Shtayyeh responded:
Look, my dear friend, Yigal Amir, who assassinated Yitzhak Rabin, is getting social pension from the State of Israel… We are responsible people. Look, put yourself in our shoes. What do you do? What do you do with orphans? You know, what you call terrorists, whatever you want to call them, they have kids. The kids of a killed man, whoever he is or she is, his kids are called orphans. They lost their father. What do you do with kids? Either you take care of them and give them good education and let them be part of the mosaic of the society or leave them victims to radicals—leave them victims to Hamas and the Iranians and so on and so forth. Second, what do you do with a family that the father has been arrested because he did something harming the Israeli security, and all of a sudden, the family’s house is destroyed by the Israeli army and the whole family, in a collective punishment, become homeless? What do you do with them? You give them some money to rent a house, you give them some money to buy furniture, you give them some money to take care of their kids and so on. What do you do with the family of a person who is in jail serving a life sentence?… What do you do with them? You don’t give them any assistance? We are giving people assistance. We are not encouraging people to kill more Israelis.
That such payments are being made to, amongst others, members of Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – all internationally designated terrorist organisations – is not in dispute; but even leaving aside the terrorist/freedom fighter dichotomy of the recipients, Shtayyeh’s characterisation of the payments as simply humanitarian social welfare is inaccurate and irrational.
Hirsch notes, for example that:
- The comparison with Yigal Amir is false. Like others held in Israeli prisons, he is denied state benefits under numerous provisions of Israeli law.
- The claims that the house of any person who “did something harming the Israeli security” is destroyed as part of collective punishment, and that the PA payment is compensation for this, are also fabrications. This deterrent measure applies only to murderers. Of the thousands of terrorists arrested each year, only a small number of homes are demolished.
- The “orphans” and “kids” Shtayyeh claims are being helped don’t exist in the case of the majority of terrorists receiving payments, because they are single, and sometimes even minors themselves.
Furthermore, the payments to those imprisoned by Israel for terrorism offences or killed in terror attacks against Israel are much larger than the normal welfare payments given to Palestinian families in need – say if the main breadwinner dies of disease or in an accident. According to Israeli researcher Yossi Kuperwasser “The maximum welfare payment is 57 percent less than the minimum pay-for-slay salary.”
Shtayyeh’s dissembling exposes the fact that the PA is not merely “giving people assistance”, as he asserts, but continuing a long Palestinian tradition of rewarding and thereby inciting violence against Israelis. The Australian Government was sufficiently concerned at the possibility that its direct funding was being used to incentivise terror that in 2018 it redirected aid money from the PA to the United Nations.
Calling audience members “his dear friends” and appealing to their compassion, Shtayyeh attempts to win talking points with earnestly expressed falsehoods and misdirections
He also recently took part in an exchange of views with the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee. Member of the European Parliament (MEP) for Sweden, Charlie Weimers, asked Shtayyeh if he could “look European taxpayers in the eyes and promise that none of their money in any way, directly or indirectly, [would] be used for terrorism or incitement.”
Weimers alluded to a June 2020 Palestinian Media Watch report highlighting loopholes in EU anti-terror financing legislation which had allowed some of the 2.8 billion euros donated by the EU to the PA since 2008 to be diverted to such groups as the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and the Palestinian Liberation Front, all EU-listed terror organisations. Since then, NGO Monitor has also released a report showing EU grants going to NGOs with either links to terror or a history of promoting antisemitic conspiracy theories.
Despite this evidence, Shtayyeh chided Weimars for these “unfair” assertions, claiming that the Palestinian leadership “has never accepted terrorism” and calls only for “peaceful resistance”. He made the laughable claim that not a “single penny from any international aid ever (went) to any terrorist organisation.”
The likelihood of elections was another topic eliciting questions from MEPs. Shtayyeh claimed that the PA was a big fan of democracy, and cited student union, chamber of commerce, and municipal elections as proof of this commitment to the “democratisation” of Palestinian society. Not only that, Shtayyeh insisted, but the PA is keen to hold parliamentary elections which would not simply re-install the old guard, but rather introduce new blood: youth, women, people from Jerusalem, Gaza, the West Bank. In other words, it would be the opposite of what they have been doing until now.
Despite this apparent zeal, parliamentary elections have eluded the PA since the last one in 2006. The fault for this, however, is Israel’s according to Shtayyeh, who told the Foreign Affairs Committee that, on every occasion, elections were blocked by Israel not allowing Palestinians from Jerusalem to participate.
The PA, in fact, only invented this ploy in 2019, when President Mahmoud Abbas insisted that, as a matter of principle, elections must be conditional on Palestinians who live in Jerusalem being allowed to vote in them. Otherwise, there could be no elections. Prior to that, the PA relied on the chronic state of conflict between Fatah – to which party the PA president and prime minister both belong – and Hamas which rules the Gaza Strip, to provide the main excuse for not calling elections.
During the past few months the PA and Hamas renewed efforts to end their rivalry and hold elections, before this was abruptly halted by the PA’s announcement in November that it would resume the security coordination with Israel that Abbas had ended six months earlier. The prospect of elections is again unlikely.
But this opportunistic blame-shifting, together with the years of foot-dragging, serves to demonstrate the absence of genuine commitment on the PA’s part to upholding democratic processes – once again contrary to Shtayyeh’s assertions.
The Peace Process
When he addressed the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee in October, Shtayyeh assured its members that he is not a hostage to history, and that “if we don’t learn from history we will never draw conclusions for tomorrow.” He offered little evidence to back this up.
In the context of the then recently signed normalisation agreements, Belgian MEP Frédérique Ries referred to previous peace talks and observed “everything has failed”. She urged the Palestinians to grasp the opportunity now on offer:
You called (the status quo) totally unsustainable. Now a dynamic has been initiated by the Emirates, by Bahrain, and other countries… (C)an you understand that for the … international community, for the observers and for the honest believers in a comprehensive two-state solution, this is a fresh momentum that has to be seized?
But for Shtayyeh and the Palestinian leadership, Arab-Israeli normalisation is “fresh momentum” that must be nipped in the bud. “At the end of the day”, he responded “if we want peace then we know… the answer. The answer is land for peace…You make peace with compromise.”
Indeed. But telling the CFR audience that the “fresh momentum” of normalisation is “a violation of the Arab Peace Initiative” does not suggest a mindset flexible enough to learn from past mistakes.
If Israel really is keen about peace in the region, I am the partner for peace. And my request is very simple: two states on the border of ’67 with East Jerusalem to be the future capital of the State of Palestine and an agreed-upon solution for the Palestinian refugees. This is the formula. And this is, frankly, this is a situation in which, look, if anybody really cares about Israel, that somebody should advise the Israelis that this two-state solution is the most important win-win situation which is a compromise from our side.
This actually is not a compromise from the Palestinian side – it is a demand for everything the Palestinians could ever realistically aspire to. Unless, of course, the Palestinian sole compromise is agreeing Israel can continue to exist.
But more importantly, the Palestinian Authority has repeatedly rejected or walked away from Israeli peace proposals which come very close to these parameters – in 2000, 2001, and 2008. Moreover, it has been openly refusing to negotiate with Israel at all since 2014. That is hardly the action of a “partner for peace” ready for a “two-state solution.”
But in the European Parliament Shtayyeh had attempted to paint Israel as the intransigent side:
When you hear the prime minister of Israel talking about Palestinian territories as not “occupied” territory, [but] as “disputed territory”; Palestinian territory as Judea and Samaria; that settlers are there to stay and they will never be removed; that Jerusalem is the united capital of the state of Israel. All these statements tell us one important thing: that the prime minister of Israel has no intentions whatsoever to really reach an agreement with the Palestinians.
Such talking points reveal that Palestinian leaders have, in fact, learnt little from history. Dismissive references to Judea and Samaria, parts of the ancient Kingdom of Israel of which Jerusalem was the capital, maintain a false narrative that denies any Jewish connection to their homeland.
Shtayyeh’s use of “occupied” here, and repeated insistence throughout his presentation that “occupation” is the only correct terminology, is a tactic routinely used to delegitimise Israel’s presence in the territories; to deny the Palestinians’ share of responsibility in having created the current situation; and to baselessly claim that all these areas are already Palestinian land – even though no Palestinian state has ever existed – so there is nothing to negotiate about.
Settlers have been removed. Israel has dismantled settlements in the past, such as in the Sinai in 1982 as part of the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty, and in both Gaza and the northern West Bank in 2005. Settlers living in illegal outposts on private Palestinian land have also been evicted, as happened in Amona in 2017.
Moreover, bizarrely, Shtayyeh told the CFR that “Israel has never come up with a peace plan since 1967.”
In 2000 Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered the Palestinians the whole of Gaza and some 92% of the West Bank including parts of east Jerusalem, as well as the dismantling of over 60 settlements. Then PA leader Yasser Arafat, said no.
In 2008 it was current PA President Mahmoud Abbas who rejected – “out of hand” in his own words – Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s offer to withdraw almost completely from the West Bank, provide land swaps to compensate for the rest, and relinquish Jerusalem’s Old City to international control.
Mohammed Shtayyeh may have mastered doublespeak, but this is a dubious achievement. Meanwhile, he and the rest of the Palestinian leadership seem determined to take their people down a familiar path to the same dead-end where they have been left languishing for so many years.