Palestinians protest poor living conditions at UNRWA’s Rafah office in the southern Gaza Strip. (Sign: The poor pay the costs of division).
(photo credit: RADI RUBINSTEIN)
If the Senate passes and President Donald Trump signs the Taylor Force Act, ending Palestinian Authority funding unless the PA stops its payments to terrorists and their families, would the PA really collapse, and if so what would be the consequences?
The US House of Representatives and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee have already approved the Taylor Force legislation. Now it’s up to the full Senate to vote, awaiting Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to bring it to the floor for a full vote or attach it to other legislation.
Nearly half of all American foreign aid to the PA goes to prisoners ($345 million) and the families of so-called “martyrs,” what Americans call terrorists. The more heinous the terrorism, the more money a prisoner and his family get for a lifetime. The Taylor Force Act aims to end this practice.
As Senator Bob Corker (R-Tennessee), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee said, the PA created a “system in law that pays Palestinian prisoners... more money if they have longer [prison] sentence... Prisoners purposely commit more heinous crimes to get more money for families... PA incentivizes terrorism.”
His colleague Rep. Ed Royce (R-California), the chairman of the House Foreign Relations committee said, “With this legislation, we are forcing the PA to choose between US assistance and these morally reprehensible policies.”
Critics of this legislation claim that the PA would collapse without American aid, being replaced by a more radical entity like Hamas, hurting Israeli and American security interests. Given the PA-Hamas reconciliation agreement last year and Hamas’s stating this month that it will place its weapons under PA control if it can join the PLO, the distinction between these two rivals may have dramatically dissipated.
Of the $600m. per year given to the PA, approximately $290m. is from the State Department under USAID for debt relief, NGOs, hospitals, economic development etc., $355m. goes to UNRWA and the smallest amount, $55m., to PA security forces. Aid to PA security working with Israel would not be threatened.
But from an American taxpayer perspective, rewarding terrorists is abhorrent.
Which brings us to UNRWA, the humanitarian UN organization that perpetuates the conflict by counting the descendants of Palestinian refugees as refugees, refusing to resettle them, while teaching an anti-Israel curriculum in its school system.
UNRWA is the next congressional target for reform.
President Trump has threatened to decrease aid to UNRWA after the condemnation of the United States by the vast majority of UN General Assembly members in the aftermath of the US acknowledging Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
UNRWA treats Palestinian refugees differently than any other refugees in the world.
For Syrian refugees living in Europe, their children born in Europe are not counted as refugees and are encouraged by the UN to resettle. But for a Palestinian who has lived in Europe for the past 70 years, their European- born children are considered stateless Palestinians in perpetuity, given the false hope of a “right of return,” a euphemism for the demographic destruction of Israel.
So, could a dramatic decrease in funding destabilize the PA, or is it time to stop the rationalizations and realpolitik and end funding of terrorists, and a system that has not only perpetuated the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but has ossified any potential progress?
As for UNRWA, there would be humanitarian issues with a significant decrease in funding. According to The Times of Israel, UNRWA “educates half a million children... doctors see eleven million patients per year, and UNRWA conducts vocational training for 9000 young people” annually.
The best strategy for the time being is to continue UNRWA funding but only if Congress writes and the president signs legislation that changes UNRWA’s definition of “refugee” to that of the UNHCR (UN High Commission for Refugees), with Palestinian refugees’ descendants being treated as every other descendant of a refugee in the world. This must also be accompanied by the demand that UNRWA end its incitement against Israel and Jews in UNRWA-run schools and related facilities.
As for the Taylor Force Act, it makes sense to stop literally paying for terrorism against civilians with American taxpayer money.
America should have learned that the PA believes that there are no consequences for its institutionalized corruption and its compensation system for terrorists and their families. Some potential terrorists arrested during the “knife intifada,” when asked why they were committing terrorism, admitted that they only needed a few more years in prison to financially set their families for life.
This may be a propitious point in time for action on these issues, as Sunni Arab nations are more interested in working with Israel and the US on their growing problems with Iran, and less concerned with their Palestinian cousins.
So will the PA collapse if the Taylor Force Act and UNRWA reform are instituted? It is all up to the Palestinians.
All they have to do to continue their aid is to stop paying terrorists, while preparing their people for the hard choices that need to be made if they truly believe in co-existing as two states for two peoples.
It is all up to them.The writer is director of MEPIN™, the Middle East Political and Information Network™. Dr. Mandel regularly briefs members of Congress and think tanks on the Middle East. He is a regular contributor to The Jerusalem Post.