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Senate Advances Bill to Block Palestinian Aid if Terror Paydays Continue

U.S. military officers stand around the coffin of Taylor Force, a 28-year-old MBA student at Vanderbilt University and a West Point graduate who had served tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, at Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv on March 11, 2016. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

WASHINGTON — A Senate committee advanced legislation to block aid to the Palestinian Authority as long as Ramallah keeps distributing payments to the families of terrorists.

As senators left for their home districts this week, the Taylor Force Act won’t receive a vote in the full Senate until after Congress returns in September.

A study of the Palestinian Authority’s 2017 budget by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs found that nearly half of all foreign aid received by Ramallah goes to prisoners, former prisoners or families of “martyrs,” defined as those “killed or wounded in the struggle against Zionism.” The PA’s budget allocates $190,869,166 for “martyr” payments, up from $174,630,296 in 2016.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) originally introduced in the last Congress legislation to give the Palestinians an aid ultimatum after Taylor Force, a 28-year-old Army vet, was stabbed to death by a terrorist from the West Bank while visiting Tel Aviv with Vanderbilt grad school classmates in March 2016.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee vote was 17-4 to advance the bill, with Democratic Sens. Ben Cardin (Md.), Bob Menendez (N.J.), Tim Kaine (Va.), Ed Markey (Mass.), Chris Coons (Del.), and Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.) supporting the legislation. At a hearing last month Graham said he was open to negotiations to get a strong vote on the bill, and the senator reintroduced the legislation Tuesday.

“This bill shines a light on the very real problem of ‘Pay to Slay.’ Taylor was an American hero who was brutally murdered at the hands of terrorists,” Graham said in a statement after committee passage. “Yet instead of condemning this horrific attack – and so many others like it – the Palestinian Authority rewards terrorists.  These rewards for terrorist attacks are inconsistent with American values. They are inconsistent with decency. And they are certainly inconsistent with peace.”

“Simply put, you can’t be a partner in peace when you are paying people to commit acts of terror.  It is long past time to let the Palestinian Authority know that these practices are wholly unacceptable.”

Cardin said he supports “the objectives” of the bill and lauded Graham for working with lawmakers on the final version.

“The important step taken today by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is intended to send an unambiguous signal to the Palestinian Authority that it must stop incentivizing terror. U.S. assistance that directly benefits the Palestinian Authority cannot continue until the abhorrent prisoner payment system ends,” Cardin said Thursday. “This bill is not intended to undermine or stop much-needed humanitarian aid that is delivered through vetted U.S. non-governmental organizations to Palestinians in need.”

“I also am pleased that there is an exception for the East Jerusalem Hospital Network, and that Senator Kaine’s amendment to create the Palestinian Authority Accountability Fund was adopted,” he added. “This escrow account will hold the assistance funds that directly benefit the Palestinian Authority as a positive inducement to accelerate the end of the prisoner payment system.”

The Zionist Organization of America said the bill was watered down to the point where it was “not nearly as strong as it could or should be, or even as it was when originally introduced.”

“While the original Taylor Force Act already excluded cuts to US aid given to the extremist PA to subsidize the PA’s minimal security cooperation with Israel and monies donated to subsidize ‘refugee’ camps, it would at least have cut all remaining assistance, about $260 million (based on the 2017 budget) unless the PA ended its Nazi-like practice of paying Palestinian Arabs to commit atrocities against Jews, Israelis, and Americans in Israel,” the ZOA said.

“The Palestinian Authority’s immoral ‘Pay For Slay’ program must come to an end, which is the goal of this legislation,” said Roz Rothstein, CEO of StandWithUs. “For too long the Palestinian Authority has been using American taxpayer dollars to pay subsidies to terrorists’ families, rewarding the murder of U.S. citizens and scores of innocent Israeli civilians – men, women and children. This incentivizing for murder along with the PA’s exalting of terrorists by naming schools, public squares and sports teams after them, is a crime against humanity, promotes terrorism and, as such, is a major obstacle to peace.”

The American-Israel Public Affairs Committee applauded the bill’s committee passage, noting it “does not affect U.S. funding for security cooperation, nor does it cut humanitarian programs if the U.S. government can certify that the PA is taking credible steps to end violence against Israelis and Americans.”

“Current law requires a reduction of U.S. assistance by an amount equivalent to that paid by the PA, the Palestine Liberation Organization, or any affiliated organization to individuals that committed acts of terrorism or their families,” AIPAC said in a statement. “However, this important step has not yet put an end to Palestinian incitement, necessitating the increased pressure provided by the Taylor Force Act.”