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 – Republican and Democratic senators on Wednesday questioned the durability of a bill that would threaten US aid to the Palestinian Authority over its program compensating terrorists convicted by Israel and the families of terrorists slain during attacks on Israelis.
During a hearing on the proposed Taylor Force Act held by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, virtually every member expressed dismay over the PA program and an interest in seeing its end. But several took issue with specific provisions of the legislation under review, which would cut all State Department funding to the PA should it continue operating the stipend program.
As it stands, the bill does not include waiver authority for the president that would allow him to continue aid in the event he deems it in the interests of national security. It would cut, among other programs, US assistance under the Economic Support Fund, which provides humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip, infrastructure money to the West Bank and debt assistance for the PA in its efforts to repay Israeli fuel and electricity providers.
The PA argues that its program compensates the families of legitimate combatants – not slain or convicted terrorists – and that Palestinians would demand the dissolution of the Authority if that money were cut off. The Israeli government – alongside the US government, and much of Congress – characterize the scheme as immoral, an impediment to peace and a tool of incitement to violence against Israelis.
Sen. Bob Corker, a Republican from Tennessee and chairman of the committee, questioned the “all or nothing” approach taken in the bill’s original draft, authored by Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.
He suggested the Israeli government had not done enough on its own part to combat the PA’s “martyr compensation” scheme: Last year, when Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky tried to cut off Palestinian aid in a separate effort, Israeli officials asked Corker to intervene, he said.
In opening remarks on Wednesday, Graham described his effort as a moral imperative, and thanked the committee for making improvements to the legislation. Currently only one Democrat has publicly endorsed the bill: Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
“This committee has the opportunity to send a signal to Mr. Abbas and everyone else that this position of the Palestinian Authority, Mr. Chairman and Ranking Member, is inconsistent with a two-state solution, inconsistent with peace and we need to stop our emboldening of this practice,” Graham said, referring to President Mahmoud Abbas. “I insist that they stop paying their young people to become terrorists, and I don’t want our tax dollars used to support any government that would do that.”
The committee’s highest- ranking Democrat, Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, said that he supports the principles underlying the Taylor Force Act: “Terrorists must not be rewarded for their acts,” he said. But he questioned the unintended consequences that might result from its passage and why the Trump administration had yet to comment on the merits of the legislation.
Indeed, the Trump administration was not represented at the hearing – a fact noted by Cardin, who expressed “disappointment” in its decision not to participate. US President Donald Trump and his top aides have repeatedly condemned terrorism financing programs generally, and the Palestinian “martyr” program specifically, but have avoided comment on this bill.
Washington’s largest Israel-advocacy organization, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, has also declined to endorse the legislation, only saying that it supports the premise of the Taylor Force Act and is working toward a revised bill that would attract bipartisan support.