Mondoweiss / August 31, 2021
The centrist Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and right-wing ministers are enraged. Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar said:
“In his place, I wouldn’t have held the meeting because [Abbas] pays salaries to the families of terrorists.”
The peace process has been frozen for over a decade, and these ministers from the Government of Change certainly don’t want any hint of a thaw.
Communications minister Yoaz Hendel:
“In my opinion, this is a unity government, and it does not need [diplomatic] steps from either the left or the right.”
Sa’ar also stressed the point, blaming it on Abbas:
We have no partner in a diplomatic process, because [Abbas] has no interest in such a process.”
Alas, the real reason is betrayed in Sa’ar’s next comment:
“A Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria will not be established under any circumstances.”
Under any circumstances. Sa’ar is the mediagenic “liberal” rival to Netanyahu, you see, who broke off from Likud and created “New Hope”. But don’t you get any New Hopes for a Palestinian state, under any circumstances!
So, what was Gantz doing there? Was he trying to revive new hopes with the Palestinians? Not nearly. Gantz– who not long ago boasted about bombing Gaza back to the “stone age”– responded to criticism of the meeting by saying that it was “solely for security purposes”.
These “security purposes” include some supposed “goodwill”, and the Times of Israel explains what that means:
“Gantz’s office… briefed reporters on the discussion and announced a number of goodwill steps, including an agreement to transfer NIS 500 million ($155 million) to the PA, which he described as a “loan,” to be paid back from garnished tax revenues that Israel withholds from the PA to offset stipends paid to terrorists. “Gantz told [Abbas] that Israel is ready for a series of measures that would strengthen the PA economy,” the statement from Gantz’s office on Sunday said.”
How does the money go around here? Israel withholds taxes paid by Palestinians – that is, for their government – in order to penalize the Palestinian Authority for providing financial aid to families where a member has either been extra-judicially executed (as often happens with Palestinian suspects) or has been jailed as a “security prisoner”, often without charge, often for mere political protest. Sometimes when Israel penalizes a whole family in collective punishment by demolishing its home etc., in contravention of international law, the Palestinian Authority seeks to alleviate this collective suffering.
And yet, the propaganda of “stipends paid to terrorists”, which the Times of Israel spouts, has become a hallmark of Israel apologia.
Let us look at a Brookings analysis of the Palestinian payments by Shibley Telhami:
“The idea that payments to families are key drivers of violence doesn’t add up. Israeli collective punishment against the families of those accused of terrorism can be swift and severe. It can involve the demolition of the family home, sometimes rendering elderly parents, siblings, spouses, and children homeless — a practice that violates the Geneva Convention and has been condemned by international organizations and human rights groups. Any would-be attacker that might theoretically be motivated by family support payments in his or her absence would have to take these devastating factors into account. Punishment aside, one would have to assume that Palestinians are unlike other people in being able to ignore not only the personal risk of being killed or jailed, but also the emotional devastation and disruption that this would cause to the lives of their loved ones, simply for the promise of monetary stipends for the family…”
“As an occupying power, Israel readily labels Palestinians as “terrorists,” including those who may not have been charged or convicted of a crime. Some are considered “terrorists” by common international definitions of terrorism adopted by independent human rights organizations, such as in cases of attacks on civilians; others are not. Prisoners include hundreds held for long periods in administrative detention without charge or trial. Unlike their settler neighbors who are tried for crimes under Israeli civil laws, Palestinians are tried in military courts — including those charged with nonviolent speech or protest activity — which have a near-100% conviction rate…”
“Families of Israelis who commit crimes against Palestinians certainly don’t suffer house demolitions, and in fact can find support: For example, the Israeli NGO Honenu (which receives tax-exempt contributions in the U.S. and Israel) has provided family support aid to Israelis in the wake of crimes against Palestinians (and even to the assassin of former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Yigal Amir, and his wife).”
The US is directly involved in this propaganda. Telhami:
“In 2017, Congress adopted legislation — the Taylor Force Act — which restricts assistance to the PA until it stops such payments. PA critics have labeled the system “pay to slay” — a clever and memorable name tag, but one that’s bigoted and distorted. It also distracts from the central culprit: 53 years of an Israeli occupation that has stunted and broken hundreds of thousands of lives.”
So now, Gantz is prepared to offer the PA a “loan”, but it will be offset by that money which Israel took away from the Palestinians. So Israel is now ready to make use of the tax money that it stole from Palestinians as a means of offsetting the “loan”.
In other words, Israel is willing to give Palestinians their own money back. But so that it wouldn’t be considered a payment for “terror” (by either The Times of Israel or government ministers), it is willing to do it by categorizing the funds as an offset that Israel is holding on to, against a “loan”.
That is “goodwill” in Israeli parlance. It is extremely relative. And even that is a problem, since it hints towards some kind of “process”.
This came just on the heels of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s US visit, in which Joe Biden announced that he and Bennett are now “close friends”. Surely, the Israeli government felt a need to show some “goodwill” toward the Palestinians, because Biden underscored the “importance of steps to improve the lives of Palestinians and support greater economic opportunities for them”.
If Israel gave back the money it stole from Palestinians, that would supposedly be like getting back to an even playing ground. Alas, that is not nearly the case. At least 78% of international aid meant for Palestinians ends up in Israeli coffers (according to Israeli economist Shir Hever). Israel steals Palestinian water from under their feet. Israel keeps Palestinians under dehumanizing occupation and siege, and regularly bombs Gaza. But Gantz is now showing “goodwill”.
Jonathan Ofir is an Israeli musician, conductor and blogger/writer based in Denmark