August 24, 2017
An expression of thanks to the American people has rarely, if ever, been uttered by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Like his predecessor Yasser Arafat, as well as the other current senior leaders of the PA, they have long taken for granted the financial assistance from the United States, as well as the European Union.
American foreign aid is vital to pursuing U.S. foreign policy, to supporting allies, to strengthening democracy, to providing humanitarian assistance. For the Palestinians, U.S. aid has been essential for supporting the operation of the PA, for ensuring Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation. It was never intended to fuel violence.
Yet, the PA under Abbas’s leadership has budgeted to reward terrorism. A recent Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs report revealed that about half of the foreign aid received by the PA is paid to Palestinian terrorists in Israeli prisons and their families, and to the families of dead terrorists.
“The Palestinian system actually provides more money to those who serve longer sentences, meaning the worse the crime, the greater the financial compensation,” Ambassador Dan Shapiro, former U.S. envoy to Israel, recently told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
According to the Middle East Media Research Institute, the allowances range from $364 (NIS 1,500) a month for a prison term of up to three years to $3,120 (NIS 13,000) for a term of 30 years and more.
The PA expended more than $1 billion in payments to terrorists and their families over a four-year period. That’s an extraordinary amount of money that could have benefited the Palestinian people if properly invested in erecting the infrastructure for the state that the PA leadership theoretically aspires to achieve as part of a negotiated two-state solution with Israel.
Obviously, this official PA policy serves to undermine peace, contravening the goal of a negotiated two-state solution. Instead of nurturing a culture of peace, the PA has been incentivizing deadly violence.
This is not a new issue at all. “Telethons and poems glorifying suicide bombers are not steps toward peace. Cash payments to the families of suicide bombers are not steps toward peace. Communiqués glorifying the murder of innocents are not steps toward peace,” said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) addressing the 2002 AJC Annual Meeting. “All of this is evil, pure and simple.”
U.S. and European leaders have tried for years to convince the PA to end these payments, but never threatened to cut foreign aid. President Trump, meeting with Abbas in early May in Washington, and again later that month in Bethlehem, called on the PA president to stop the payments once and for all. “Peace can never take root in an environment where violence is tolerated, funded and even rewarded,” Trump said.
But any suggestion that the American aid spigot might be closed a bit has prompted indignation. Abbas’s ingratitude was on full display, after the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved the Taylor Force Act, when the Palestinian leader made clear that the United States will not dictate to him how the PA will spend American foreign aid.
“I will not compromise on the salary (rawatib) of a Martyr (Shahid) or a prisoner,” declared Abbas in a verbal swipe at President Trump as well as the U.S. Congress.
Taylor Force, an American student and former U.S. Army officer, was brutally murdered by a terrorist in Jaffa, Israel. This cold-blooded deadly attack, followed by the reality that the terrorist family will be duly rewarded by the PA, led to the introduction of this groundbreaking measure to penalize the PA for inciting terrorism.
To be clear, the legislation's sponsors and supporters do not call for a total cutoff of U.S. aid to the Palestinians. On the contrary, funding for humanitarian efforts and Israel-Palestinian security cooperation remains necessary. Payment for terrorists, which are in the PA public record, would be set aside and held for one year, to be released if and when the PA takes "credible steps" to end violence against U.S. and Israeli citizens, helps investigate perpetrators of violent acts, and terminates the payments that reward terrorism.
The bill also calls on “all donor countries” to cease direct budgetary support until the PA stops all terror payments, and requires the State Department to put out an annual, declassified report detailing the PA’s terror payments.
The PA’s 2017 budget, according to Palestinian Media Watch, shows payments to terrorists in Israeli jails totaling $158 million, compared to $135 million in 2016. The generosity extends to family members of dead terrorists, which rose from $183 million to $197 million.
Cutting those payments would take the kind of courage that the Palestinian leadership has long lacked in talking honestly to its own people. Like the naming of Palestinian schools, parks and public squares for terrorists, the PA payments glorify terrorism.
Congress, after summer recess, should move expeditiously to pass the Taylor Force Act, and European governments should consider similar actions to bring an end to this despicable PA practice.
Kenneth Bandler is the American Jewish Committee’s director of media relations.
This article was originally published on The Hill.
Photo caption: 7 people were killed, and about 40 were injured in a multi-prong terror attack targeting Israeli civilians in 2011 in Eilat, Israel. Photo credit: Israeli Defense Forces