This week, the Palestinian leadership met with President Donald Trump’s envoys to the Middle East and refused, point blank, to stop paying terrorists and their families.
Currently, the Palestinian Authority (PA) “allocates $315 million, nearly 8% of its budget, to pay terrorists in [Israeli] prison and the families of the ‘martyrs’,” according to Sander Gerber of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. American taxpayers subsidize those payments through foreign aid.
President Donald Trump raised the issue with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during meetings last month. Earlier this month, Reuters reported that despite giving assurances to U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that the payments would be stopped, the Palestinian Authority will simply disguise them.
On Tuesday, U.S. Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt met with Abbas again and reiterated President Trump’s demand. It did not go well, according to the Associated Press:
A senior Palestinian official said that a preparatory meeting with Greenblatt on Tuesday had not gone well and became tense over the Martyrs’ Fund. He said the Americans “are buying” Netanyahu’s complaints about Palestinian incitement, and that Greenblatt was insisting on an end to the welfare payments.
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was discussing a closed diplomatic meeting, said the Palestinians had rebuffed Greenblatt’s pressure and demanded an Israeli settlement freeze. He said a Palestinian delegation would head to Washington next month for further talks.
On Wednesday, President Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, who is overseeing U.S. involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, met with Palestinian officials and received the same response. According to the Israeli left-wing daily Ha’aretz, the Palestinian leadership was “greatly disappointed” when Kushner and Greenblatt raised the issue. They reportedly regard the payments to terrorists and their families “an internal Palestinian matter.”
And on Thursday, according to the Times of Israel, a representative of Abbas told an international security conference in Israel that the issue of payments to terrorists was merely a way for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to avoid negotiations and concessions.
Reading a speech on Abbas’s behalf, he said: “When the international community has an opportunity to move forward with a final status agreement between Israel and Palestine, the governments of Mr. Netanyahu find an excuse to avoid discussing the key issues … The most recent pretexts include incitement and social aid provided to the families of Palestinian political prisoners.”
But the payments are not just an Israeli issue. Americans are increasingly angry that the PA is paying Palestinian terrorists — especially because those terrorists are killing Americans as well as Israelis.
Last year, a terrorist murdered American graduate student and U.S. Army veteran Taylor Force, who was visiting Tel Aviv. In response, Republicans introduced the Taylor Force Act, which would cut off economic aid to the Palestinians until the terror payments stop.
At first, Republicans struggled to convince Democrats to agree to the bill. But that has changed. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) said earlier this month that he would support the Taylor Force Act if Palestinians refused to listen to Trump’s appeals. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), the ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also said he would support the bill, with amendments. And top Democratic donor Haim Saban came out in favor of the Taylor Force Act on Monday.
The issue of payments to terrorists is not a pretext to avoid peace talks. It is fundamental to the prospects of peace. If the Palestinians cannot stop subsidizing and incentivizing the murder of innocent Israeli — and American — civilians, then they do not want peace, and there is nothing to discuss. It is as simple as that.
The Palestinian leadership seems to regard the issue as a kind of surprise, a spanner thrown into the works by Netanyahu. It is only “new” because no one knew the full extent of Palestinian support for terrorists until fairly recently. But the Palestinians’ responsibility to end incitement and support for terror dates back to the Oslo accords of 1993. They have no excuse.
Abbas apparently fails to understand that he can no longer encourage and reward the murder of innocent people as a form of “social aid” or political patronage. Perhaps he is taking advice from the U.S. media, who suggest daily that President Trump may not be around for long. Abbas may hope that by stalling on this issue, he may find a more pliable U.S. administration, as the Obama administration was.
He is mistaken. The Trump administration is not going to disappear, and it is not going to drop the issue of stopping payments to terrorists. Trump’s own supporters, and the sponsors of the Taylor Force Act, are holding him accountable on that issue.
If the Palestinians persist in their refusal, the entire peace process will fall apart — and it should, to be replaced by steps that allow Israel to act unilaterally, with U.S. backing, to secure its citizens and its interests.
The Palestinian leadership does not seem to understand that risk — or the opportunity Trump has given them. When he took office, they panicked: they did not even know anyone in the incoming administration. They were given a reprieve when the president committed himself to reaching a peace agreement between Israel and the PA. It was, frankly, an opportunity the Palestinians did not deserve.
Trump is earnest about wanting to make “one of the toughest deals of all.” But the Palestinian leadership is wasting that chance for the sake of paying terrorists, proving the truth of Abba Eban’s observation that the Palestinians “never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”
With President Trump in office, it may be the last opportunity the Palestinians ever have to miss.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He was named one of the “most influential” people in news media in 2016. He is the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.