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Senate considers cutting funds to Palestinians until payments to killers stop

(JTA) – A hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee considered whether massive cuts in aid to the Palestinians would help end terrorism or spur a breakdown that could compound the violence. The Foreign Relations Committee met Wednesday, July 13, to discuss the Taylor Force Act, named for an American studying in Tel Aviv when he was stabbed and killed by a Palestinian terrorist in 2016. The Palestinian Authority pays the families of Palestinians who were killed, injured or jailed in attacks on Jewish Israelis; families of murderers receive up to $3,500 a month. The legislation would reduce certain funds given to the Palestinian Authority – infrastructure money and debt assistance, for instance – for as long as it continues these payments.

The bill now has mostly Republican backing. Democrats have expressed interest in advancing a modified version, but say its provisions – cutting all but security aid to the Palestinian police force, which helps Israel keep the West Bank quiet – goes too far.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who introduced the bill, launched the hearing by noting that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas remains committed to the payments. “Here’s what Abbas said last week, president of the Palestinian Authority: ‘Even if I will have to leave my position in response to U.S. and Israel pressure, I will not compromise on the salary of a martyr or a prisoner,’” Graham said.

Two witnesses appeared, one each arguing for and against the bill as it stood. Elliott Abrams, a former deputy national security adviser under President George W. Bush, and the witness speaking on behalf of the bill, said the United States had a moral obligation not to underwrite terrorism in any way. “We’ve got to be sure that aid money does not indirectly sustain the current system. … The moral point is crystal clear. Now is the time to act,” said Abrams, now a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Daniel Shapiro, the U.S. ambassador to Israel under President Barack Obama, agreed with the ends of the bill, calling the payments “an abominable practice.” He noted that under Obama, the United States cut aid to the Palestinians commensurate with the amount they were paying out to the Palestinian assailants, but it had no effect on the payments. “It is possible that a total cutoff would be more persuasive,” Shapiro said, but argued that it could also remove U.S. leverage and further radicalize Palestinians. Shapiro, who is now a distinguished visiting fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, also said the bill should provide waiver authority to the president if he wishes to avoid unwanted effects of cutting off the Economic Support Fund, which provides humanitarian aid to Gaza.

Throughout the hearing, there was an emphasis on reducing incitement and the glorification of violent attacks in the West Bank. “You can trace U.S. money right into these textbooks teaching kids from the time they’re born that their ambition in life is to kill somebody who thinks differently than they do,” said Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho.

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