With the cost of living skyrocketing as falling revenues forces the Palestinian Authority (‘PA’) to stop paying salaries to its employees, the PA is struggling to hold onto what legitimacy it has left amongst its people. In spite of this, the PA is reportedly increasing the money it pays in support of terrorists who have murdered innocent Israelis.
This blog has been following the PA’s escalating financial crisis as foreign aid donations have dwindled over the past few years. We have also been following the repeated attacks on the pipeline through the Sinai that used to supply Israel with natural gas from Egypt and the Egyptians’ eventual decision to unilaterally call-off the trade agreement.
It seems that these two issues are now coming to a head. The PA, which ran a $1.1 billion deficit in 2011, had to suspend payment of salaries to its 153,000-odd employees for several months until Saudi Arabia came through with a $100 million emergency donation in June.
Meanwhile, the lack of natural gas from Egypt has been driving up electricity prices for Israelis and Palestinians as the Israel Electric Corporation (‘IEC’) is forced to turn to more expensive means of generating power. The increased power bill has been too much for the struggling PA, who have not been paying for the power that their people have been using.
As the Jerusalem Post editorialises today, this means that Israeli taxpayers have had to foot the bill for Palestinian power use this year, a position that is not sustainable:
[T]he Palestinian Authority has racked up a steadily mounting debt that already exceeds NIS 700 million [about AUD 170 million].
Moreover, there’s no indication of any alarm about it in Ramallah. It appears that the authorities there are quite content to have average Israelis pick up the PA’s tab.
… The bottom line is unambiguous: The government cannot keep playing nice to avoid damaging the national image at the expense of the economy.
As the Post notes, Israel may be forced to begin cutting power to the West Bank and Gaza if the electricity bill remains unpaid:
Various punitive paths are available to the IEC. It can place a lien on the East Jerusalem Electric Company, which gets its electricity from the IEC and whose installations are inside Israel.
The IEC can cut the power to various PA districts intermittently.
It cannot be that Israeli consumers need suffer power shortages themselves, while underwriting the PA’s residents who enjoy wholesale immunity.
Power cuts could be the death blow to the increasingly fragile Authority. As Haaretz‘s Avi Issacharoff has reported today, the cost of living crisis seems to be nearing its breaking point due to widespread protests, including increasing numbers of people setting themselves on fire:
Economic protests in the West Bank are gaining steam: Thousands of people demonstrated throughout the territory on Wednesday to protest the high cost of living, and especially the recent increase in fuel prices. …
…One 30-year-old man tried to set himself and his 6-year-old daughter on fire in Ramallah’s Manara Square, but was stopped by fellow demonstrators who jumped on him after he doused himself and the girl with fuel to keep him from lighting it.
Hasan Qahwaji’s attempt to set himself on fire was the third such attempt in the territories of the last week. On Monday, Ehab Abu Nada, 18, of the al-Shati refugee camp near Gaza City died of his injuries after having set himself on fire a few days earlier to protest his family’s economic distress.
As the AP’s Diaa Hadid reported, Abu Nada’s self-immolation was for once blamed not on Israel, but on the continuing incompetence of the ruling Palestinian factions:
The father blamed Palestinian infighting for their family’s woes. He said he appealed to both governments, Hamas and Abbas’ Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, to help his family, but received no response.
Hamas government officials would not comment on the man’s death. Palestinian Authority officials were not immediately available for a response. Neither of their government media sites carried news of the young man’s death.
Abu Nada said he wished officials from either government had visited them, or paid attention to his despairing son. (emphasis added)
In the face of these many challenges, it would seem imprudent, to say the least, for the PA to continue to funnel money to Palestinians convicted of terrorism and the families of suicide bombers.
Yet not only is the PA doing so, it substantially increased these payments last year such that — as the Times of Israel reports — 6% of the PA’s budget is now consumed by compensation for terrorists:
As of May 2011, the PA spent NIS 18 million ($4.5 million) per month on compensating Palestinian inmates in Israeli prisons and a further NIS 26 million ($6.5 million) on payments to families of suicide bombers. In all, such payments cost the PA some 6 percent of its overall budget, Israel’s Channel 2 news reported on Monday night, citing documentation signed by [PA Prime Minister Salaam] Fayyad. ..
Starting in 2003, Palestinian law mandated the dispensation of a monthly salary of NIS 1,000 ($250) to security detainees sentenced to up to five years in prison. The longer the sentence, the higher the pay. An inmate serving a life sentence was paid NIS 4,000 ($1,000) per month.
An amendment of the law in January 2011 enacted by Fayyad increased the salaries by up to 300%, Channel 2 reported.
As Issacharof points out, this means that a Palestinian who is jailed for 3-5 years earns the average Palestinian wage and a Palestinian jailed for 30 years or more is paid six times the salary of an average Palestinian worker by the PA. This means that the families of Palestinians convicted for the most heinous of crimes would be benefiting enormously and be far better off than than those Palestinians who are making an honest living.
The PA is sending a clear message that it is far more valuable to murder innocent Israelis than to find a job or start a business.
Noting the PA’s record of routinely hiring political cronies and family members for high-paying ‘jobs’ without actually demanding any work from them, Seth Mandel believes that this latest scandal may be more emblematic of the endemic corruption in the PA than support for terror:
In truth, this is part and parcel of the corruption problem within the Palestinian Authority. … on some level, it’s as much about the violence itself as it is about buying support. …
Ironically, Fatah has struggled against Hamas at the polls in part because of its legendary reputation for corruption, and the party’s response was to try to get those supporters back by increasing its corruption. It’s a vicious cycle that no one among the Palestinian leadership has any desire to curb.
Additionally, the PA has enacted prohibitions against Palestinians working for Israelis in the settlements, some of the few (and better paying) jobs available to Palestinian workers. So the no-show, no-work “jobs” become the only “jobs” in Abbas’s PA.
Whatever the reason, this diversion of what is mostly international aid money — potentially including money from Australia — to compensation for terrorists and their families is entirely unjust and must be stopped. When the PA cannot afford to pay for electricity for its people, it is ludicrous that a Palestinian can earn six times as much by being jailed for murder as they can through regular employment.
As Mandel concludes,
It glorifies violence, depresses the economy, and increases corruption in one fell swoop.