WASHINGTON – The highest-ranking Democrat in Congress endorsed a bill on Friday that would cut off US funding for the Palestinian Authority over its compensation program for terrorists and the families of terrorists, virtually assuring the legislation’s passage through the Senate.
The bill is facing fierce opposition from PA leadership, which says that relations would deteriorate sharply should it become law. But Israel has lobbied in its favor, and the Trump administration has tacitly given its approval, with one White House official telling The Jerusalem Post that President Donald Trump supports the legislation in principle.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said the bill, named the Taylor Force Act after a US Army veteran murdered in Jaffa last year, sends a message to the PA that the practice of funding the families of convicted terrorists must end.
“President [Mahmoud] Abbas must be held accountable for the Palestinian Authority’s record of incitement and must stop subsidizing terror. It’s abhorrent that the Palestinian Authority provides payments to terrorists and families of those who have committed terrorist violence against Israelis and Americans and others,” said Schumer.
“I am a proud cosponsor of the Taylor Force Act because it aims to put an end to this disturbing practice, which only perpetuates the cycle of violence and undercuts the drive to peace,” he added.
Schumer’s endorsement virtually locks in support from his caucus, which began pouring in after the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted affirmatively on a compromise version of the bill on Thursday. The latest version gives the PA time to change its “martyr” compensation scheme before funds are cut off. Several Democrats joined in support of the bill for the first time upon that vote.
Should it pass both houses of Congress, the Taylor Force Act would compel the State Department to cut off funding to the PA over its “martyr” compensation scheme, which offers monthly stipends to the families of convicted assailants relative to the lengths of their sentences. But new language added to the bill “spells out the steps by which payments to the PA could resume,” said the office of Sen. Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, who authored the legislation.
Speaking with reporters on Thursday, Graham praised the committee for its bipartisan work ethic and for improving on his original version.
“The longer you’re in jail, the more vicious the crime, the more money you get,” Graham said of the stipend program. “That’s inconsistent with peace.”
“It is a sick system – it needs to change,” Graham added, calling the scheme a “crime for young Palestinians to incentivize murder and terrorism.”
In order to retrieve US funding, the PA would have to revoke any law, decree or document authorizing a compensation program for prisoners “that uses the sentence or period of incarceration to determine the level of compensation paid.”
Much of the program is authorized by presidential decree.
The secretary of state will also have to certify that the PA “has terminated payments for acts of terrorism against American and Israeli citizens after being fairly tried and who have been imprisoned for such acts of terrorism, including the family members of the convicted individuals.”
The PA will also have to take “credible steps” against incitement to violence against Israelis and Americans.
“We absolutely cannot accept a policy that rewards acts of terrorism like the one that tragically took the life of Taylor Force,” said Sen. Bob Corker, Republican from Tennessee and chairman of the committee, referring to the namesake of the bill.
Corker confirmed that an amendment to the bill provides the PA with a one-year window to change its program before cuts would go into effect. The markup process tightened the legislation into a “clean and crisp” document, the chairman said, repeatedly referring to the PA program as “sick.”
“This legislation will force the Palestinian Authority to make a choice,” Corker said: “Either face the consequences of stoking violence or end this detestable practice immediately.”
But Husam Zomlot, the PLO’s envoy to Washington, warned that the bill was a “misinformed and counterproductive” measure from Congress that risks undermining the PA.
“This is a 52-year-old program to support families who lost their breadwinners to the atrocities of the occupation, the vast majority of whom are unduly arrested or killed by Israel,” Zomlot said. “The program has served a social and security need to provide for our people, guarantee a better future for the children and protect the needy from the many radical groups around us.”
The PA says that most beneficiaries of the program are the families of legitimate combatants against occupation, but Israel the Trump administration consider the program immoral, an incentive for terrorism and an impediment to peace.
“The act does not enhance the security of Americans and Israelis for whose benefit it was drafted, nor does it permit Palestine to provide for the security and well-being of its people who continue to live under a half-century-old military occupation,” Zomlot said. “All it will achieve is to undermine the Palestinian National Authority, the strategic partner of the US, at a time when President Trump renewed hope for a lasting and comprehensive peace.”
Last month, a Trump administration official said that the president supports the “high-level goals” of the bill, but refrained from offering a full-throated endorsement.
“We will continue to closely monitor the specifics of the legislation,” the official told the Post
The committee’s highest- ranking Democrat, Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, issued a strong statement of support for the bill after voting for it on Thursday morning.
The committee’s action was “intended to send an unambiguous signal to the Palestinian Authority that it must stop incentivizing terror,” Cardin said.
Also the American Israel Public Affairs Committee endorsed the bill, but only after it achieved Democratic support last week, consistent with its foundational pledge to exclusively support bipartisan legislation.
“The legislation does not affect US funding for security cooperation, nor does it cut humanitarian programs if the US government can certify that the PA is taking credible steps to end violence against Israelis and Americans,” the lobby said in a statement. “AIPAC urges the full Senate to adopt this important legislation.”