Yes: U.S. gives $400 million a year to a group spurring terrorism
When Palestinian terrorist Rajaei Haddad was released from an Israeli prison on April 10 after serving 20 years for the murder of yeshiva student Gabriel Hirschberg in Jerusalem’s Old City, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was there to greet him while members of Abbas’s Fatah Party hailed him “a leader, a hero, and a fighter.”
That same day, the Palestinian Authority’s TV channel aired an interview in which writer Ani Abu Zeid complained about Israelis who used to “cry about the false Holocaust in the days of Hitler,” adding that Jews “colluded with Hitler so that he would facilitate the bringing of settlers to Palestine.”
When, a few weeks earlier, President Donald Trump signed the Taylor Force Act into law, requiring that Washington end its financial aid for the Palestinian Authority if the latter doesn’t stop providing generous stipends to Palestinians who kill Jews, Palestinian officials took umbrage and vowed not to stop.
In language worthy of George Orwell, a top Abbas aide who serves as the Palestinian envoy to Washington said the Palestinian Authority was “the only agency committed to peace and nonviolence.”
The Taylor Force Act is named for a West Point graduate, former U.S. Army field artillery officer and first-year graduate student from Vanderbilt University who was stabbed to death in a terror attack by a knife-wielding Palestinian in Tel Aviv in March 2016. The attack left 10 others wounded.
That law clearly moved U.S. policy in the right direction but, frankly, it didn’t go far enough. The United States already has all the reason it needs to stop funding the Palestinian Authority.
The federal government provides about $400 million a year to the Palestinian Authority — the supposedly “moderate” body that was created under the 1993 Oslo Accords and runs the West Bank — even though it reward terrorists, incites violence against Jews on TV and social media, and approves school textbooks and other curricula that portray Jews in ugly terms and promote a Palestine that would stretch “from the Jordan river to the Mediterranean Sea” — thus replacing Israel.
Washington, of course, doesn’t send the money specifically to finance terrorism. But money is fungible, so U.S. aid that the Palestinian Authority can use for one purpose frees up money it can use for another. Thus, U.S. aid facilitates a system of financial rewards that makes terrorism a tempting occupation.
Under the rewards system — which critics have dubbed “pay for slay” — stipends rise as terrorists spend more time in Israeli jails or die as “martyrs.”
A terrorist jailed for less than three years reportedly receives a monthly stipend of $368, while one sentenced to at least 30 years receives $3,400 a month — the same amount that goes to the families of those who die while killing Jews. Since the average Palestinian makes $300 a month, terrorism can seem an inviting profession.
Yosef Kuperwasser, a former Israeli military intelligence research chief, investigated such stipends. He reported in May 2017 that the Palestinian Authority had paid $1.12 billion over the previous four years to terrorists and their families.
The payments, he found, amounted to about 7 percent of that body’s $4 billion annual budget and over 20 percent of its annual foreign aid.
When, last year, top U.S. officials began demanding that the Palestinian Authority end this murderous practice, top Palestinian officials rebuffed them in strikingly bold terms — for instance, putting a line item specifically for the stipends into their annual budget rather than continuing to hide the funding.
Of “martyred” Palestinian terrorists, Abbas declared earlier this year, “They are our children and they are our families. They honor us, and we will continue to pay them before the living.”
Don’t U.S. taxpayers deserve better? Doesn’t the family of Taylor Force?
Lawrence J. Haas, former Communications Director for Vice President Al Gore, is Senior Fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council. Readers may write him at AFC, 509 C St NE, Washington, DC 20002
No: Mend, don’t end, U.S. aid to Palestinian government
In both Republican and Democratic administrations, with bipartisan support in Congress and support from American allies in Europe and the Middle East, the United States has established and maintained clear benchmarks for maintaining U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority: It must recognize Israel, renounce violence, and abide by prior agreements.
As long as the Palestinian Authority continues to comply with these conditions, U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority should continue.
As with U.S. aid to any government, we can and should continuously revisit the impact that U.S. aid is having — whether it is benefiting civilians as much as it could, and whether it is complying with all applicable U.S. laws, especially laws pertaining to the protection of human rights.
We should continuously seek to improve the impact of U.S. aid, but we should not cut off that aid so long as the Palestinian government is complying with the longstanding bipartisan U.S. benchmarks established for that aid to continue.
The maintenance of an effectively functioning Palestinian government serves the values and protects the interests of the majority of Americans, Israelis and Palestinians. The present Palestinian Authority is not ideal from the point of view of the majority of Americans, Israelis or Palestinians, but neither is any other government with which we work, including our own. When there is a lasting diplomatic agreement that ends the Israel-Palestine conflict, it will be between Israel and a government that shares important characteristics with the present Palestinian Authority, and that is a key reason to continue U.S. cooperation.
The Palestinian Authority represents, within Palestinian society, the hope for a permanent resolution to the conflict with Israel achieved through diplomatic and political means.
It believes that if Palestinians compromise, the Israeli government and its supporters also will compromise and that a permanent agreement that ends the conflict achieved through diplomacy and politics can match Palestinian political aspirations closely enough to earn the support of the majority of Palestinians.
If U.S. policy were to fundamentally undermine the Palestinian Authority, it would undermine these hopes and beliefs among Palestinians.
To some, no doubt, that may be the point of seeking to undermine it; that may be the goal. But it is not the goal, and should not be the goal, of the majority of Americans, Israelis or Palestinians to undermine these hopes and beliefs among Palestinians.
On the contrary, it is the goal, and should be the goal, to validate these hopes and beliefs and make them come true.
U.S. policy should work to help improve the Palestinian Authority so that it contributes more to making these hopes and beliefs come true, including by helping more Palestinians achieve their aspirations for improving their lives right now.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has been a leader in working to reform U.S. policy to prioritize helping Palestinians achieve their just, peaceful aspirations for improving their lives.
He has spoken up for the right of Palestinians in Gaza to protest peacefully without being shot with live ammunition.
Sanders also has advocated for the U.S. to work to end the crippling Israel-Egyptian blockade of Palestinian civilians in Gaza.
A Sanders letter, already signed by a number of his colleagues, calls on the Trump administration to take steps to help relieve Gaza’s urgent humanitarian crisis.
They include immediately restoring funding to the United Nations’ Palestinian refugee agency in Gaza and pressing to remove restrictions on the movement of people, goods and equipment in and out of Gaza — especially medicine, hospital supplies and equipment for projects to ensure Palestinians have access to clean drinking water.
Sanders’ letter is headed in the right direction. We should work to improve our relationship with the Palestinians, not seek to further undermine it.
Robert Naiman is policy director at Just Foreign Policy, a Washington think-tank dedicated to reforming U.S. foreign policy to serve the interests and reflect the values of the broad majority of Americans. He holds masters degrees in economic and mathematics from the University of Illinois at Champaign. Readers may write him at Just Foreign Policy, 4410 Massachusetts Ave NW, Washington, DC 20016.