WASHINGTON – Republican lawmakers reintroduced a bill on Tuesday that would eliminate US funding for the Palestinian Authority critical to the organization’s ability to operate if it continues providing stipends to terrorists and their families.
The bill was originally introduced in the last Congress, but Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who is leading the effort, expressed hope that the measure will receive bipartisan support should it reach a vote.
“The problem we have is that the Palestinian Authority has a set of laws that are on the books that you can read for yourself,” Graham told reporters gathered in the Senate. “If a young Palestinian is convicted in a court in Israel of being a terrorist, the longer they’re in jail, the more their family receives from the Palestinian Authority.”
“If you die as a terrorist, as a ‘martyr,’ your family will get an annual stipend greater than the average Palestinian earns,” he added, noting that over $300 million US taxpayer dollars go to the PA each year. Most Americans are unaware of the problem, Graham said.
Historically, career diplomats at the State Department have been hesitant to cut off funding to the PA regardless of its questionable practices: Both the US and Israeli governments fear that such a move could prompt a collapse of the authority, creating a security crisis in the West Bank.
But during his visit to Washington this month, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu noted the death of Taylor Force, a former US Army officer who died at the hands of a Palestinian attacker last year, as an example of the threat Israel faces on a constant basis from Palestinian extremists.
Graham believes that Netanyahu’s reference to Force, for whom his bill is named, was an endorsement of the legislative effort. He expressed confidence that US President Donald Trump will sign the bill if it passes through Congress.
“Can you imagine growing up in a country where your government will pay you for killing someone else through a terrorist act, and if you want to help your family, you can earn more dying than you can living?” Graham asked. “We’re going to change this. We’re going to get the Palestinian Authority’s attention by withholding our money.”
Graham told reporters he wants the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the largest lobby in Washington on Israeli policy, “on board” his effort. But a spokesman for the group suggested the Taylor Force legislation would need significant edits in order to earn Democratic support – and an AIPAC endorsement.
“We strongly support the legislation’s goal to end these abhorrent payments, and we are committed to work with Congress to build the bipartisan support necessary for a bill to pass,” Marshall Wittmann, spokesman for AIPAC, told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.
The bill would require the State Department to cut off aid unless the PA ceases its “martyr” compensation program – a clear ultimatum cast as morally clarifying by Republicans, but as a simplistic challenge by Democrats, who fear the law could make matters worse for Palestinian leaders already facing political troubles.
“It’s an outrageous concept to be in law anywhere. It’s an even more outrageous thing to be in law of an authority that we give money to. So what the Taylor Force Act will do is give the Palestinian Authority a clear choice: You can either stop doing what you’re doing, or you won’t have our money, at least, to do it with,” said Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, a cosponsor of the bill.
“It’s a fairly black and white moment – a basic moment in human dignity frankly for them, and for us as well,” he added.