Knesset Gets Legal Clearance for Sanctions on Terror Payments

Israel sanctions
MK Elazar Stern. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Government legal advisors told the Knesset on Thursday that there was no legal obstacle to withholding tax monies from the Palestinian Authority to offset its payments to Palestinian terrorists and their families.

“We don’t see any legal impediment,” Justice Ministry attorney Anat Assif told the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee which on Wednesday considered a bill impose financial sanctions on the PA for supporting terrorism.

The bill, authored by MK Elazar Stern (Yesh Atid), still faces second and third readings in the plenum before it can be passed into law.

U.S. President Donald Trump has demanded from Mahmoud Abbas that he cease the payments, but the Palestinians have been adamant that they will not do so, claiming that they are humanitarian stipends.

The Taylor Force Act, which would freeze U.S. funding for the PA unless it stops the payments, is pending in the Congress.

There are divergent opinions within Israel about the proposal. FADC Chair Avi Dichter supports it because it makes clear that Israel “won’t continue to be indifferent to the PA, as with one hand it is working on peace with Israel while with the other hand is sanctifying the terrorists who harm us.”

However, opponents maintain that, as much as they abhor anything that smacks of rewarding terrorists, they fear funding cutoffs would destabilize the Palestinian Authority precisely at a moment when donor funding is dropping.

Indeed, legal opinion is not unanimous either. Attorney Dudi Kopel of the Finance Ministry’s legal bureau cited Article 16 of the 1994 Gaza-Jericho Agreement, which authorizes Israel to withhold funds to offset debts but not as a sanction on policies disagreeable to Israel.

But Sara Weiss-Maudi of the Foreign Ministry’s legal department refuted this argument, noting that the same 1994 agreement also bound both sides not to support terrorism. Refusing to transfer funds to terrorists and their families falls within the bounds of that agreement, she said.

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