In this country, you often hear talk about how terrible celebrity culture is. Our aspirational role models include thuggish professional ball-kickers, scantily-clad twerking girls, and people who appear to be famous just for being famous. So it’s instructive to look at what goes on in other parts of the world.
For example, last October Israel released another batch of long-term prisoners as a goodwill gesture to keep the Palestinian Authority at the negotiating table. All were guilty of murdering Israelis. Soldiers or civilians; men or women; adults or children; irrespective of who they had killed, these prisoners were greeted by Mahmoud Abbas himself and welcomed home as heroes.
Nor was this merely symbolic; the PA put its money where its mouth was, lavishing each former captive with cash and a suitably high-ranking civil service position — with a correspondingly enviable salary. Lest the PA get bogged down in the potentially icky quagmire of calculating which killer had provided the best service for his people, it simply pegged the rewards to how long each one had served in jail.
Hence Issa Abd Rabbo got an astounding $110,000 payout, and also (because it is a truth universally acknowledged that a single terrorist in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife) the offer to have any future wedding costs covered.
And what exactly had Mr Rabbo done to gain the stature of Palestine’s most eligible bachelor?
He had kidnapped two Israeli student hitch-hikers, tied and gagged them at gunpoint, and then murdered them.
If this seems like an absolutely appalling way for a government – any government – to behave, then I’m afraid it actually gets worse. Because while it scarcely seems as if it can be true that the supposedly moderate regime of Mahmoud Abbas would throw money at terrorists like this, it isn’t. They aren’t really throwing their money at terrorists; they’re throwing ours.
The only way that Abbas has coffers deep enough for this kind of grotesque generosity is due to the sheer volume of international funding he receives. For example,UK taxpayers alone give £33 million direct to the PA, while also covering 15 per cent of the EU’s £133m aid. Per head, Palestinians are the number one recipient of aid in the world, presumably under the admirable belief that it would help build the foundations for peace.
Tragically, however, the opposite is true. As the award-winning American journalist Edwin Black has documented in Financing the Flames, his recently published exposé of how international aid harms the Israeli-Palestinian process, all this money has enabled the PA to enforce a long-standing policy, of immediately and automatically putting any Palestinian convicted of killing any Israeli, on the government payroll. According to Black’s research, four to six per cent of the PA’s budget is spent doling out salaries to incarcerated murderers in this way.
You might be aware of the ad hoc “Price Tag” attacks in the West Bank by a minority of Israelis in response to anti-settlement actions. These have been roundly (and rightfully) condemned by all parts of the Israeli political spectrum. But what if these protests were in fact government policy? What if documents emerged, that proved a significant chunk of Netanyahu’s budget was allocated every year to supporting a campaign of weaponised, politicised vandalism? Who then could seriously believe Jerusalem’s claims to be striving for peace?
Equally, it is incumbent on us to explain how this abuse of funding is both symptom and cause of the PA’s unseriousness about reaching a historic accord with Israel. You don’t have to be an economist to realise that the amount a government spends on underwriting murder should not be between four and six per cent of its budget. It should be between zero and zero per cent.