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Congress Cutting Aid To Palestinians Over Controversial Stipend Practice


There is a new law at the end of the very long spending package President Trump signed last week. That law cuts aid that Congress says directly benefits the Palestinian Authority. The move was in response to a controversial Palestinian policy of paying millions of dollars each year to Palestinians who carry out attacks on Israelis and foreigners. NPR's Daniel Estrin took a look at how those payments work.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Palestinian officials pay stipends to the families of suicide bombers and those killed and wounded in confrontations with Israelis. Officials also pay Palestinians in Israeli prisons convicted for violence. The longer the prison sentence, the higher the pay. Stipends can reach around $3,000 a month and more if they left behind a spouse and children. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had this message for the Palestinians during a recent speech to the pro-Israel group AIPAC in Washington.


PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: I have a message for President Abbas - stop paying terrorists.


NETANYAHU: Because what message - what message does this send to Palestinian children? It says murder Jews and get rich.

ESTRIN: Most Palestinians say the stipends are for people fighting for independence. Qadoura Fares, who heads a Palestinian prisoners advocacy group, says families need financial support when their breadwinners are in jail.

QADOURA FARES: First of all, there is 6,500 prisoners, which mean that there is 6,500 families without a source how to administrate their life. Our responsibility to serve these families because they are part of our community. If not, it mean that we throw them to the streets.

KHADIJA BADRA: (Speaking Arabic).

ESTRIN: He's talking about people like this woman, Khadija Badra. Her son is serving a 17 1/2 year prison sentence. She says her son threw stones at soldiers. Israel says it imprisoned him for accessory to murder and other charges. She goes to the bank each month to collect a $1,500 stipend.

BADRA: (Speaking Arabic).

ESTRIN: She spends some of the money on these bags of long johns and undershirts for her son in jail. She deposits some of the money for him to spend at the prison canteen. The rest covers her household expenses. She explains through an interpreter.

BADRA: (Through interpreter) My son deserves this money. Yes, this is his salary. This is his patriotic act, and he deserves this salary.

ESTRIN: Since 2015, the U.S. has protested the stipends by cutting about a third of the annual aid it gives the Palestinians - about $140 million. The U.S. says it's roughly the same amount the Palestinians pay for attackers, though how it reached that figure is kept classified, and it's not clear how the U.S. defines attackers. The new U.S. spending package cuts even more aid to the Palestinians until the payments stop. It's under a provision named after an American killed in 2016 by a Palestinian stabber whose family receives payments.

The U.S. law still allows some aid directly to the Palestinians when it bypasses the Palestinian Authority. For example, it will likely cut off money used to pay off Palestinian government debt but will allow for funding for wastewater treatment, children's vaccinations and support for Palestinian security forces. The Palestinians say the funding cuts won't change their minds.

AHMAD MAJDALANI: (Speaking Arabic).

ESTRIN: Ahmad Majdalani, an adviser to the Palestinian Authority president, called it blackmail that won't stop them from paying, quote, "martyrs and resistance" fighters. Daniel Estrin, NPR News, the West Bank. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Daniel Estrin
Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.