Taylor Force, 29, was killed by a Palestinian terrorist who went on a stabbing rampage in Jaffa on March 8, 2016.
(photo credit: FACEBOOK)
WASHINGTON – A Senate bill that would force the Palestinian Authority to end its program of compensating convicted murderers and terrorists in Israel passed through a critical committee markup and vote on Thursday.
The Taylor Force Act – originally drafted exclusively by Republicans – earned support from Democratic senators and several Israel advocacy organizations that were previously holding out for edits to the legislation. Sixteen members of the Foreign Relations Committee voted in favor of the bill while five voted against it.
The legislation will now proceed to the Senate floor for a full vote.
Should it pass, 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 Senator 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 Palestinian program. “That’s inconsistent with peace. It is a sick system – it needs to change.”
Graham called 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 Senator Bob Corker, Republican from Tennessee and chairman of the committee, referring to the namesake of the bill – a US Army veteran who was murdered in Jaffa last year.
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 committee 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 and 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."
The committee's highest-ranking Democrat, Senator 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.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee endorsed the bill after it achieved Democratic support this 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 lobbying group said in a statement. “AIPAC urges the full Senate to adopt this important legislation.”