Lindsey Graham at CUFI summit.
(photo credit: DPA PICTURE-ALLIANCE/AFP)
WASHINGTON – Whether Israel likes it or not, the United States Senate will aggressively promote legislation next month aimed at cutting funding to the Palestinian Authority and Egypt, Sen. Lindsey Graham told The Jerusalem Post.
A longtime and vocal supporter of Israel, former US presidential candidate Graham told the Post that as chairman of the Senate’s Foreign Operations Subcommittee, he will work to cut US aid to the PA for continuing to pay stipends to imprisoned Palestinian terrorists and to Egypt for its recent legislative crackdown on NGOs.
Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, expects Israel to oppose both moves but says he will move forward regardless. He revealed that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had personally asked him during Israel’s negotiations with the White House over a memorandum of understanding for a new military aid package to suspend his efforts in the Senate to get Israel more money than initially agreed upon. According to Graham, he was offended by Netanyahu’s request.
Graham said the first piece of legislation is called the “Taylor Force Act,” named for the US military veteran who was killed in a Palestinian terrorist stabbing in Tel Aviv earlier this year. Force’s parents live in South Carolina.
“Under PA law, if you get convicted in Israeli court of being a terrorist, they give you a military rank based on how long you’ve been in jail,” Graham said. “The longer you’re in jail, the higher rank you get when you get out. If you die in an act of terrorism committed against the State of Israel or, in this case against an American citizen, your family gets a stipend for the rest of their lives.”
Similar legislation is pending for Egypt, he said, due to Abdel Fatah al-Sisi’s recent decision to approve legislation that cracks down on NGOs operating in the country. Graham said that he traveled to Cairo, met with Sisi to “help him” and persuade not “go down the wrong road” but that once he did, the Senate would need to take action.
Israel has in the past lobbied strongly in Congress to prevent cuts in US funding to the PA and Egypt, because Israel has an interest in stable and secure neighbors. US aid to the PA is about $400 million and to Egypt is about $1.3 billion in military assistance.
Asked how he would respond if Israel requested that he refrain from advancing the legislation, Graham said bluntly, “I don’t care.” While Graham said he supported a two-state solution and knew that the PA is far better than Hamas, he could not continue to turn a blind eye to the Palestinian Authority’s financial support for terrorists.
“They killed a young man who served my country; an American citizen who got caught up in this insanity,” he said. “His parents live in my district.
What am I supposed to tell them?” Graham said he is not yet sure if he can secure the votes needed to pass the legislation on freezing the aid, but he hopes to receive the support of President- elect Donald Trump.
Graham didn’t hide his frustration with Netanyahu for deciding in September to sign the new 10-year MOU, a $38b. military aid package, with Obama.
The MOU, he said, “is an advisory thing” and that the way the negotiations were conducted between Jerusalem and Washington “took over the appropriations process,” shutting out Congress.
“They [the Obama administration] tried to strong arm Congress,” he said. “Israel left $100m. on the table. I got $3.4b.
for Israel this year in a bipartisan fashion, but the administration said it would not sign the MOU unless I change my number to 3.1 billion... And Israel sent a letter to the administration saying they wouldn’t accept it.”
Israel, Graham added, “better get ready to send back the check” since Congress will move forward and approve more than agreed upon between Netanyahu and Obama.
Graham said he also plans to introduce a statutory provision that will allow Israel to continue using 26% of the aid it receives from the US to purchase defense products made in Israel. Under the MOU, the 26% is supposed to be phased out over time.
“It’s not about Israeli security, it’s about Iran,” Graham said.
“I want a robust, indigenous defense community... inside of Israel. Not only for their security, [but] because they’re [a] front-line state; they have to do things we don’t have to do and that technology has been shared in abundance. It’s been a win for America.”