Shekel money bills.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
An expression of thanks to the American people has rarely, if ever, been uttered by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Like his predecessor Yasser Arafat and the other current senior PA leaders, Abbas has long taken for granted the financial assistance that comes from the United States as well as the European Union.
American foreign aid is vital to pursue US foreign policy, support allies, strengthen democracy and provide humanitarian assistance. For the Palestinians, US aid should support the PA’s legitimate operations and ensure Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation. It was never intended to fuel violence. Yet under Abbas’s leadership, the PA has budgeted to reward terrorism. The PA uses some foreign aid to pay Palestinian terrorists in Israeli prisons and their families, and the families of dead terrorists.
“The Palestinian system actually provides more money to those who serve longer sentences, meaning the worse the crime, the greater the financial compensation,” Ambassador Dan Shapiro, former US envoy to Israel, recently told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
According to the Middle East Media Research Institute, the allowances range from $364 (NIS 1,500) a month for a prison term of up to three years, to $3,120 (NIS 13,000) for a term of 30 years and more. That money could have benefited the Palestinian people if properly invested in infrastructure for the state that the PA leadership theoretically aspires to achieve as part of a negotiated two-state solution with Israel.
But instead of nurturing a culture of peace, the PA has been incentivizing deadly violence.
This is not a new issue. Addressing the 2002 AJC Annual Meeting, Senator John McCain declared: “Telethons and poems glorifying suicide bombers are not steps toward peace. Cash payments to the families of suicide bombers are not steps toward peace. Communiqués glorifying the murder of innocents are not steps toward peace.” Said Senator McCain, “All of this is evil, pure and simple.”
US and European leaders have tried for years to convince the PA to end these payments, but never threatened to cut foreign aid. President Trump, meeting with Abbas in early May in Washington and again later that month in Bethlehem, called on the PA president to stop the payments once and for all.
“Peace can never take root in an environment where violence is tolerated, funded and even rewarded,” Trump said.
But any suggestion that the American aid spigot might be closed a bit prompts indignation. Abbas’s ingratitude was on full display after the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved the Taylor Force Act, when the Palestinian leader made clear that the US will not dictate to him how the PA spends American foreign aid.
“I will not compromise on the salary [rawatib
] of a martyr [shahid
] or a prisoner,” declared Abbas in a verbal swipe at US President Donald Trump as well as the US Congress.
Taylor Force, an American student and former US Army officer, was murdered by a terrorist in Jaffa. This cold-blooded attack, followed by the reality that the terrorist family would be duly rewarded by the PA, led to the introduction of this groundbreaking measure to penalize the PA for inciting terrorism.
To be clear, the legislation’s sponsors and supporters do not call for a total cutoff of US aid to the Palestinians.
On the contrary, funding for humanitarian efforts and Israel-Palestinian security cooperation remains essential. Payment for terrorists, which are available in the PA public record for all to see, would be set aside and held for one year, to be released if and when the PA takes “credible steps” to end violence against US and Israeli citizens, helps investigate perpetrators of violent acts and terminates the payments that reward terrorism.
The bill also calls on “all donor countries” to cease direct budgetary support until the PA stops all terrorism payments, and requires the State Department to put out an annual, declassified report detailing the PA’s terror payments.
The PA’s 2017 budget, according to Palestinian Media Watch, shows payments to terrorists in Israeli jails totaling $158 million, as compared to $135m. in 2016. The generosity extends to family members of dead terrorists, which rose from $183m. to $197m.
Cutting those payments would take courage on the part of the Palestinian leadership in talking honestly to its own people, an attribute it has long lacked. Like the naming of Palestinian schools, parks, and public squares for terrorists, the PA payments glorify terrorism.
After its summer recess, Congress should move expeditiously to pass the Taylor Force Act, and European governments should consider taking similar action to bring an end to this despicable PA practice. The writer is the American Jewish Committee’s director of media relations.