(CNSNews.com) – State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert gave short shrift Thursday to a Palestinian journalist who questioned U.S. opposition to one of the Palestinian Authority’s most controversial policies. Paying the families of convicted and dead terrorists, she told him, is “not a normal thing to do.”
Said Arikat, Washington bureau chief for the Palestinian daily newspaper Al- Quds, suggested during a press briefing that objections to the payments were misplaced, since the monthly stipends do not go to the perpetrators of terror attacks but to family members who “have nothing to do” with the acts.
“This is an issue that can be discussed at length – the payments and so on – because they’re paying the families,” Arikat told Nauert. “They’re not paying the person, the perpetrator. A lot of them have children and so on, that they have nothing to do with that decision.”
Nauert interjected, “You don’t see that happening in the United States. That’s not a normal thing to do,” she said. “It’s not a normal – it’s not a right thing to do, to pay the families of those who have murdered innocent people.”
The U.S. and Israeli governments say they oppose the “martyr’s fund” stipends to families of Palestinians killed or injured in attacks on Israelis, or jailed for such attacks, on the grounds they amount to incentives to violence.
Critics, who call it a “pay to slay” policy, note that the longer the prison sentence served by convicted terrorists – that is, the more egregious the crime – the greater the amount paid out.
In testimony before the U.S. Congress in 2016, the Middle East Media Research Institute pointed to P.A. legislation stipulating that payments range from 1,500 Israeli shekels ($420) a month for a prison term of up to three years, to 13,000 shekels ($3,640) for a term of 30 years or more.
According to research by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, the P.A.’s budget for 2017 included 1,24 billion shekels ($347 million) for stipends to imprisoned terrorists and to families of those killed or wounded in the commission of terror attacks.
Thursday’s exchange between Nauert and Arikat came after Nauert expressed concern about reports that the P.A. said it would pay stipends to the family of the Palestinian who murdered Israeli-American dual citizen Ari Fuld on Sunday by stabbing him in the back.
“We are deeply saddened by the loss of this American citizen and our condolences go out to his family and also his friends,” she said.
“I want to make clear that we condemn the Palestinian Authority payments to the families of prisoners, of convicted terrorists, and deceased Palestinians, and we strongly oppose any program that incentivizes those acts of violence and terror.”
A spending bill signed into law by President Trump last March includes the Taylor Force Act, a bipartisan measure that withholds U.S. funding to the Palestinians until the secretary of state certifies that the P.A. and PLO “have terminated payments for acts of terrorism against Israeli citizens and United States citizens to any individual, after being fairly tried, who has been imprisoned for such acts of terrorism, and to any individual who died committing such acts of terrorism, including to a family member of such individuals.”
“Let me remind folks that that law, the Taylor Force Act, became law and was a bipartisan law, and that is something we continue to stand behind,” Nauert said.
Taylor Force was a U.S. Army veteran and Vanderbilt student who was stabbed to death by a Palestinian in Jaffa during a 2016 MBA study trip.
After his killer, who also wounded ten others, was shot dead, the P.A. began to pay “martyrs fund” stipends to his family.
Earlier Thursday, U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman tweeted, “The Palestinian Prisoner Affairs Commission has confirmed that the family of the terrorist who murdered Ari Fuld is ‘eligible to receive a monthly salary’ as compensation for his incarceration. This practice is unconscionable and must stop if there is to be any hope for peace.”
The State Department’s latest annual terrorism report, released on Wednesday, for the first time cites the P.A. payments as a factor influencing Palestinian terrorism.
“The PA and PLO continued to provide ‘martyr payments’ to the families of Palestinian individuals killed carrying out a terrorist act,” it said. “The PA and PLO also provided payments to Palestinians in Israeli prisons, including those convicted of acts of terrorism against Israelis. Israeli government officials criticized this practice as incentivizing acts of terror.”