Senator to 'Post': Congress acts to shut loophole on Palestinian convict stipends

US Sen. Dan Coats (R-Indiana) says he is optimistic that the House will adopt his new language for next year's State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill.

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June 29, 2016 18:58
3 minute read.
Prisoners exchange deal

Palestinian prisoners who were released from Israeli prisons as part of a prisoners exchange deal between Israel and Hamas wave from a bus . (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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WASHINGTON -  The Senate is acting to shut a loophole that allows Palestinian leadership to use US aid dollars to provide monthly stipends to people convicted by Israel of murder or terrorism, US Sen. Dan Coats (R-Indiana) told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.

Language has been inserted into next year’s State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill that will detail what would trigger a reduction of budgetary support. In recent years, the Palestinian Authority has transferred its stipend program to Palestine Liberation Organization control, which has allowed the program to continue unsanctioned.

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US aid to the Palestinians shall be cut “by an amount the secretary [of state] determines is equivalent to the amount expended by the Palestinian Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organization and any successor or affiliated organizations, as payments for acts of terrorism by individuals who are imprisoned after being fairly tried and convicted for acts of terrorism, and by individuals who died committing acts of terrorism during the previous calendar year,” the legislation now reads.

The Senate Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs approved the language this week.

Reference to the PLO is new in both the House and Senate versions of the bill. But Coats worked to include another addition – “any successor or affiliated organizations” – in order to ensure that the PA does not move the program into yet another subsidiary organization, thus again avoiding an aid cut.

In an interview, Coats said he is optimistic the House will adopt his language.

“Right now its been a smooth path. There’s some organizations that have not endorsed it, but they have not opposed it. They’ve kind of remained silent on it,” Coats said. “But right now, no pushback. We haven’t heard from the State Department yet.”

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The State Department is the body that will interpret and enforce the law, as it has in past years when the PA has acted in ways that some members of Congress have considered dodgy.

When Hamas and Fatah entered reconciliation talks and into a unity government in 2014, for example, members of Congress called on the State Department to cut funding to the PA. Existing law requires the US to cut funding to the PA should Hamas become a part of the government.

At that time, the State Department argued that Hamas figures were not formally occupying PA government roles – thus justifying a continuation of aid.

“I’m well aware of what State’s history is on this, and we’re expecting there will be some pushback. And we’re going to do everything we can to make sure they don’t massage it,” Coats said.

Consecutive US administrations have feared the consequences of cutting US aid: The possible collapse of the PA, which is in neither US nor Israeli interests, according to leadership in both Washington and Jerusalem. But Coats argues the stipend program is so abhorrent that forcing the PA to end it is a moral imperative.

“I understand the concerns of the Israeli government, and others, that it’s a delicate issue here regarding [PA President Mahmoud] Abbas and their relationship, with the potential negotiations with them, and that this might potentially be disruptive to his presidency,” Coats said. “I’m aware of that. But I believe there’s a moral issue here that transcends that concern. I don’t see how Palestinians can defend this practice; I don’t understand how Israelis can accept this practice, on the argument of maintaining stability in that government. At some point, the moral imperative rises above.”

The State Department has yet to comment.

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