Feb 3, 2021 - World

Prisoner payments are stumbling block to warming U.S.-Palestinian ties

Biden with Abbas in 2010. Photo: Thaer Ganaim/PPO via Getty Images

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh has formed a special team to prepare for talks with the Biden administration over controversial payments made by the Palestinian Authority to Palestinian prisoners jailed in Israel, many of them on terrorism charges.

Why it matters: The prisoner stipends — termed "pay for slay" by the Trump administration — are a primary concern for the Biden administration as it prepares to re-engage with the Palestinians.

  • U.S. and Palestinian officials acknowledge that a solution on the payments issue must be found as the U.S. takes steps like renewing aid and reopening the PLO office in Washington. They're therefore considering combining the issues into one package.

Driving the news: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas tasked Shtayyeh with finding such a solution. Shtayyeh has assembled a team of lawyers and experts, and he discussed the issue earlier this week during a call with Hady Amr, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for Israel-Palestine.

  • One possibility would be changing the law such that the payment criteria is based on the welfare needs of the prisoner and not on the crime committed.

What they are saying: “We know we have to find a solution for the prisoner payments, but it is an important issue for many Palestinians and any solution must be dignified," a Palestinian official told me.

  • The Palestinian official added that Shtayyeh told Amr in their phone call that U.S. relations with the Palestinians should be bilateral — separate from the state of relations between the Palestinians and Israel.

What to watch: One incentive the Biden administration could offer the Palestinians to make concessions on the payments would be the signing of a long-sought presidential waiver canceling the designation of the PLO as a terror organization.

What’s next: State Department spokesperson Ned Price said on Tuesday that the administration wants to renew humanitarian aid to the Palestinians quickly because Trump's suspension of aid "didn't achieve political progress or compromises from the Palestinian leadership and only hurt the Palestinian people."

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