On Wednesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing to discuss the Taylor Force Act, which, if passed, would cut financial aid from the United States to the Palestinian Authority (PA) unless the PA stops its “pay for slay” payments which reward terrorists.
The hearing highlighted the differences between the Obama and Trump administrations’ policies and approach towards Israel.
The Taylor Force Act, which was introduced by Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Dan Coats (R-IN), and Roy Blunt (R-MO) in 2016, was named after a U.S. Army veteran who was killed by a Palestinian terrorist that same year.
The PA currently pays 26,800 families of “Martyrs” $183 million (NIS 660 million) annually, and 6,500 terrorist prisoners reportedly receive $135 million (NIS 486 million) per year.
“The Palestinian Authority is, in fact, rewarding terror,” Former Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams said during the hearing. “There’s no way around that conclusion. And it does not really matter whether the payments are formally made by the Palestinian Authority or the PLO.”
If passed, the Taylor Act would require the U.S. secretary of state to verify that the PA has ended its payments to terrorists and their kin and would also require the PA to publicly condemn terrorist attacks and take steps to bring these perpetrators to justice.
“The United States is the largest donor to Palestinians, year after year,” Abrams said, noting that U.S. assistance to the PA has totaled more than $5 billion since the establishment of the PA in the 1990s. He added, “In recent years, aid from the Economic Support Fund (ESF) has amounted to over $300 million per year,” but also noted that “Those figures do not count assistance we give through the United Nations agency UNRWA, which is now approaching $6 billion since that organization’s founding.”
Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel under the Obama administration Dan Shapiro also testified. He argued against cutting aid from the PA and noted his view that “the solvency of the PA itself… is not going to be affected by this legislation. But it could be affected by Israel’s own measures.”
“It’s possible that a total cutoff of economic funds would lead” Abbas to changing the PA’s policies, Shapiro said, adding, “It’s also possible that it would lead him to digging in his heels.” He then suggested that “the threat of it has greater leverage than the actual cutoff itself.” Under former President Barack Obama, U.S.-Israel relations were not at their height. Shapiro also suggested that instead of cutting off aid to the PA, that the funds be sent “directly into PA coffers, such as for or to pay off their debts to electricity companies, may be a better way to target that cutoff.”
On Tuesday, the Israel Electricity Company (IEC) and PA signed their first commercial agreement in which Israel granted them with a new power plant.
At one point during the hearing, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) referred a letter from a group of Israeli security officials called the “Commanders for Israel’s Security” (CIS) who suggested that passing the Taylor Force Act would undermine the PA’s security cooperation with Israel. “I believe I read that there were a large group of former Israeli generals who have cautioned us to be careful about not making the situation worse and therefore ending up having more Israelis killed. Can one of you expand on that?”
In response to the CIS letter, a group of 13 retired security officials wrote a joint op-ed in the Jerusalem Post, noting that the group “are fundamentally mistaken” in opposing America’s efforts to punish the PA for its support and enabling of terror.” It is indeed difficult to comprehend how a group that calls itself ‘Commanders for Israel’s Security’ opposes taking steps against a policy that directly and acutely endangers the security of Israel,” they wrote.
Abrams responded to Merkley saying, “I think Israeli generals are divided on this. They don’t want to see chaos in the West Bank, none of us want to see that. But this practice has got to be stopped.”
The testimonies of Abrams and Shapiro highlighted the underlying differences between the Obama and Trump administrations regarding Israel and the Middle East.
In May, the senators wrote a letter to President Donald Trump urging him to demand that PA leader Mahmoud Abbas end his government’s years-long practice of rewarding terrorists and their families with compensation for attacks against Israel and its citizens.
However, the PA rejected the U.S. government’s request. Abbas’s senior foreign policy adviser, Nabil Shaath, reportedly referred to the U.S. request as “absurd” during an interview with Israel Radio and suggested, “That would be like asking Israel to stop paying its soldiers.”
Last week, Abbas reportedly vowed that he would never stop the “pay for slay” practice. “Even if I will have to leave my position, I will not compromise on the salary (rawatib) of a Martyr (Shahid) or a prisoner, as I am the president of the entire Palestinian people, including the prisoners, the Martyrs, the injured, the expelled and the uprooted,” he said according to a Palestinian Media Watch translation of a quote he wrote on the Fatah’s Facebook page.