Palestinian Hamas militants take part in a memorial service for senior militant Mazen Fuqaha, in Gaza City March 27, 2017..
(photo credit: REUTERS/MOHAMMED SALEM)
For years, much of the world has turned a blind eye to the funding that has fueled Palestinian terrorism against Israelis. Recently, however, welcome signs have appeared that this may be changing. International indignation is mounting at the realization that money donated for philanthropic purposes is in fact being redirected to kill and maim. And since acts of terrorism have constituted a major impediment to the search for peace, holding the Palestinian Authority accountable for how vital financial support from the US and Europe is used could raise hopes for progress toward achieving an ultimate agreement between Israelis and Palestinians.
On May 17, Norway announced that it was freezing all new funding for the UN Women Palestine office because it had discovered that previous aid money had gone toward the building of a West Bank youth center named for a terrorist who had killed 12 children.
The Norwegian foreign minister declared that “the glorification of terrorist attacks is completely unacceptable.”
Besides cutting off new funding, Norway asked for the removal of its logo from the youth center building and demanded reimbursement of money already allocated.
Denmark took similar action on June 2, not only freezing funding for a Palestinian NGO that had named a youth center after another notorious terrorist – and calling for the return of money already spent – but also stopping $8 million in payments to 24 pro-Palestinian NGOs until an investigation could determine how the money would be spent.
The day before, UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency) – whose mandate is to care for Palestinian refugees – uncovered a Hamas tunnel underneath an UNRWA-run school in a Gaza refugee camp. The eastward path of the tunnel indicated its purpose – to provide Hamas a subterranean route across the border into Israel, where its terrorists could kill and possibly kidnap Israelis, as they had done in the past. Israel destroyed most Hamas tunnels under Gaza during the 2014 war. But Hamas has since invested significantly in rebuilding and expanding the tunnel network, as evidenced by the UNRWA discovery.
In other words, Hamas, internationally labeled a terrorist organization, was using a UN-funded school to camouflage its murderous plans. UNRWA, which has been generally sympathetic over the years toward its Palestinian clients, came down hard this time. It issued a statement that condemned the tunnel “in the strongest possible terms,” and declared: “The sanctity and neutrality of UN premises must be preserved at all times.”
Of even greater significance is the anti-terrorism posture of the United States. On May 23, during his visit to PA leader Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem, US President Donald Trump rebuked Abbas and the PA for supplying money to terrorists and their families, stating publicly, “Peace can never take root in an environment where violence is tolerated, funded, and even rewarded.” Trump was even more direct in his private meeting with Abbas. According to news reports, the president yelled at the Palestinian leader and said he had seen evidence that Abbas was directly involved in anti-Israel incitement, contrary to the promise he made at their White House meeting three weeks earlier to combat such incitement.
That was not the end of the matter.
On June 13, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the PA had informed him of a change in policy: it would “cease the payments to the families of those who have committed murder or violence against others.”
While a PA spokesman denied this the next day and insisted that the payments were continuing, the American administration’s strong objections to the funding of terrorism, as well as mounting congressional support for the proposed Taylor Force Act that would cut off money from the PA if it continues to pay terrorists and their families, suggest that the US, like Norway, Denmark and others around the world will more closely scrutinize the money trail that makes anti-Israel terrorism possible.
US aid to the Palestinians has long come with restrictions to try to ensure none of those monies support terrorism, but such aid has proven to be fungible.
When the Palestinian leadership engages in a variety of activities, such as naming schools and public squares after Palestinians with blood on their hands, it is celebrating violence and undermining commitments to pursue peace. Total elimination of Palestinian terrorism is probably impossible, but even if international action to cut off its funding brings a noticeable diminution, prospects for peace would improve. After all, it is the acts of terrorism that have convinced many Israelis that they have no partner for peace, and acts of terrorism that have derailed earlier negotiations between the parties. Donors have leverage. Follow the money, cut it off, and see if the PA is ready to drop terrorism to advance peace.
The author is the American Jewish Committee’s director of publications.