In testimony to Congress, US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, Ambassador Anne W. Patterson, defended the Palestinian Authority (PA) practice of paying salaries to terrorists in prison saying "they have to provide for the families."
However, Palestinian Media Watch has documented repeatedly that this is not correct. According to PA law and in practice the PA does not give stipends to terrorist prisoners' families but salaries to the terrorist prisoners themselves.
PMW has already reported that the PA Minister of Prisoners vocally rejected the claim that the payments are social welfare aid to the prisoners' families, stressing instead that the prisoners receive salaries "out of esteem."
This was likewise corroborated by Chairman of the PA-funded Prisoners' Club Qadura Fares when he announced that the PA had decided on a final version of the law, "which considers payments made to prisoners 'salaries,' (Arabic: ratib) to which no other term applies."
In addition, when challenged by Congressman Weber at the hearing on the Administration's Middle East and North Africa Budget Request for 2015 about possibly cutting off US funding because of the PA salary program to terrorists, Assistant Secretary Patterson twice told the Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa that she "knows" that the PA "are going to try to phase that out, and we should give them an opportunity to do so."
There is nothing in all the activities and statements of the PA to back up that claim, says PMW. The watchdog group adds that it has not encountered any PA statements regarding a "phasing out" of the salaries to terrorists. To the contrary, in 2013 and 2014, PA officials have regularly been adding additional regulations and benefits for prisoners. In addition, they have reiterated in government meetings and in public statements to Palestinians that the salaries and other benefits to prisoners are a high priority for the Palestinian Authority and will continue.
At a government meeting earlier this month, PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah said the PA places "prisoners at the top of its priorities" and that they will continue to implement the "Prisoners' and Released [Prisoners'] Law" - which specifically refers to salaries and other payments to prisoners.
Patterson's statement that the PA is "phasing out" these payments to terrorists therefore contradicts the public policy and statements by PA officials.
In 2013, when the British and Norwegian governments told their parliaments that the PA told them the money was for "families," PMW released a report entitled "Is the PA lying to European governments in order to receive European funding?" After this report's release, the Norwegian Foreign Minister publicly acknowledged that PMW's documentation was correct and said he had reported incorrectly to parliament because: "it is unfortunate that the information that was first communicated [by the Norwegian Foreign Ministry] to Parliament and which was based on information obtained from the PA at the time, in retrospect, is imprecise."
The PA Minister of Prisoner Affairs has publicly rejected the European demand not to pay salaries to terrorist prisoners, telling official PA TV last November: "The Europeans want their money that comes to us to remain clean – not to go to families of those they claim to be terrorists... These [prisoners] are heroes..."
When asked if she know how much the PA pays prisoners a year by Congressman Weber, Assistant Secretary Patterson only mentioned PA's payments to families, and the PA's payments to "people after they're released," leaving out the largest payments, which go to imprisoned terrorists: "No, I don't have a figure, they pay families whose relatives are imprisoned and then they do pay some of these people after they're released..."
PMW's special report to a UK Parliamentary Committee investigating payments to the PA, which was publicized earlier this year documents that in 2013 the PA paid over $100 million to terrorist prisoners, and more benefits totaling an additional $46 million dollars are being added in 2014.
Asked why the US has not acted on the issue of the PA's payments to terrorists, despite knowing about it for a long time, Assistant Secretary Patterson said: "I think, one, it is a political issue for the Palestinians, that these people are in jail, they have to provide for the families, and again I think they plan to phase it out."
During his question time, Congressman Weber also asked Assistant Secretary Patterson if she knew "who initially sounded the alarm that this money was going to those terrorists," the Assistant Secretary did not know, but answered it had "been the case for some time."
Palestinian Media Watch originally reported that the PA pays salaries to terrorists in 2011, and has continuously and repeatedly issued updates and reports highlighting these ongoing payments and the US' and EU countries' funding of them. Even the PA has acknowledged that PMW reports have brought the information to American and European leaders who "know the facts by heart" and "question" the PA.
In a recent interview with the British daily The Telegraph, the PA also corroborated that the salary figures exposed by PMW are correct: "When the Sunday Telegraph approached the Palestinian Authority to investigate these claims, officials confirmed that the payments quoted by PMW are 'around the real figures'. And they were unapologetic."
Recently, official PA TV rebroadcast a rare interview with the wife of a prisoner who complains that she does not get any money from the salary that her husband receives monthly from the Palestinian Authority while imprisoned in Israel. The interview constitutes final confirmation of Palestinian Media Watch's contention that the money paid to terrorists is not "social welfare" paid to the terrorists' families, but rewards to the terrorists themselves. The program also includes an interview with PA Minister of Prisoners' Affairs Issa Karake, who confirms that only the prisoner controls the money and only he has the right to appoint a power of attorney. See PMW's original report on this interview here.
This broadcast also refutes the claim made by Assistant Secretary of State Ambassador Patterson that the PA gives salaries to terrorists because "they have to provide for the families."
Itamar Marcus and Nan Jacques Zilberdik, PMW