Biden isn’t serious about opposing Palestinian terrorism

A bid to strengthen the Taylor Force Act that penalizes the Palestinian Authority’s “pay for slay” policy is necessary. But the administration is still evading the law in other ways.

Office of Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) Credit: DCStockPhotography/Shutterstock.
Office of Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) Credit: DCStockPhotography/Shutterstock.
Jonathan S. Tobin. Photo by Tzipora Lifchitz.
Jonathan S. Tobin
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him @jonathans_tobin.

The victim of the most recent Palestinian terrorist attack was a young American. Elan Ganeles, a 27-year-old native of West Hartford, Conn., was gunned down on the road between Jericho and the Dead Sea on Feb. 27. Though he had previously served in the Israel Defense Forces, Ganeles was currently living in New York and was murdered while on a trip to attend a friend’s wedding.

While this crime was condemned by the U.S. government, the Biden administration’s claims that it opposes Palestinian terrorism ring hollow for a number of reasons. Chief among them is the fact that although federal law prohibits the sending of financial assistance to the Palestinian Authority if it continues to pay salaries and pensions to terrorists, Biden continues to send aid to the P.A. with promises of more to come.

The law in question is the 2018 Taylor Force Act, named after another man in his 20s who was visiting Israel. Force also spent time in the military; he was a non-Jewish West Point graduate murdered by a Palestinian terrorist while studying abroad. The Force family and others worked tirelessly to get Congress to pass the law so as to use the immense financial leverage of the United States to pressure the P.A. and its leader, Mahmoud Abbas, to discontinue their practice of subsidizing and supporting acts of violence.

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In addition to signing the Taylor Force Act into law, former President Donald Trump cut off all forms of aid to the P.A. over the issue of their support of terrorism. Abbas had tried to con Trump, who was fairly ignorant about the issue when he arrived in office, into thinking that he was a man of peace on that first meeting with him in the White House. But by the time Trump met with Abbas on his visit to Israel and the territories in May 2017, the president had gotten wise to the veteran PLO bureaucrat’s grift. He reportedly pounded the table during his meeting with Abbas and demanded that he stop the “pay for slay” policies.

Though the Palestinians and some of their Western apologists like to argue that the money merely constitutes welfare payments to the needy, the system generates as much as $350 million a year to terrorists and those connected to them via their “Martyrs Fund.” The payments are on a sliding scale with those who shed blood and kill people getting more than those who merely commit assaults and fail to kill their victims.

More to the point, it is so important to the political culture of the Palestinians that despite the real financial hardships imposed by Trump’s aid cutoff, Abbas refused to end those payments. Indeed, it can be argued that it would be impossible for him or any successor to the ailing 87-year-old former assistant to arch-terrorist Yasser Arafat to do so and survive politically against their Islamist rivals Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad based in the Gaza Strip.

But rather than turning up the heat on Abbas, Trump’s successor has done the opposite. As he has with most of what Trump did, Biden immediately reversed his ban on aid to the Palestinians once he took office, and vast sums have poured into various Palestinian agencies. Though his foreign-policy team continues to insist that they are managing all this without committing technical violations of the Taylor Force Act, they have promised to increase this aid.

They’re doing so in part as a way to bludgeon Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government. Biden’s team despises the current governing coalition because of its right-wing and religious composition, and because of the grudges that most of them still hold against Netanyahu dating back to their service under former President Barack Obama.

Indeed, despite the recent surge of Palestinian terror that has cost the lives of 13 Israelis in the last few weeks, Washington remains focused on its anger at Netanyahu’s government. That’s because of its commitment to strengthening Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria, and plans for judicial reform. Though they have no right taking any position on the issue of efforts to rein in Israel’s out-of-control Supreme Court, they are taking a cue from the Israeli opposition (which, in turn, is mimicking Democratic Party talking points in the 2022 midterm elections in the United States) and claim that it threatens democracy.

While intervening in Israeli domestic politics is an irresistible temptation for Democrats, Biden and his aides would do more for peace in the Middle East if they were more interested in stopping Abbas from paying terrorists than looking for ways to reward him.

Still, there are some people in Washington who are paying attention to the fate of Ganeles and understand that there is something Congress can do to strengthen the Taylor Force Act, even while Biden tries to undermine it.

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) knows that even if Biden were trying to stop the Palestinians rather than covering for them, Abbas and his Fatah Party will continue to use foreign aid to pay those who murder Israelis and Americans. So he is planning to introduce a bill that will put more teeth in the legislation. His bill would prevent any bank that processes or facilitates payments to terrorists from doing business in the United States or using dollars in any transaction. It would also restrict any financial institution that did or does business with Hamas.

Given the global commercial network that connects most fiscal institutions large and small throughout most of the world, this would inflict considerable hardship on the P.A. That’s because it needs its banks to have connections to the West in order for it to receive the massive payments it gets from international bodies and European governments, much of which is lost due to the rampant corruption in the P.A. that extends all the way up to Abbas and his family.

Cotton first tried to pass this bill back in 2021, but it failed in the Senate due to opposition from Democrats and indifference from some establishment Republicans. The latter may still be an obstacle. According to Jewish Insider, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who was the original principal sponsor of the Taylor Force Act, thinks it isn’t necessary. Graham actually thinks the act is working well.

That is a typical congressional reaction. Having passed a law that was supposed to deal with a challenging issue, Graham, who spends most of his time lately promoting more U.S. involvement in Ukraine’s war with Russia, considered the problem solved once his bill was passed. That’s true even if, as with Palestinian terrorism, the law isn’t doing what it’s supposed to do because of loopholes and the executive branch’s unwillingness to enforce it.

Though the odds are still against him given the lack of Democratic interest in stopping Palestinian terrorism, Cotton is still to be commended for trying. But as long as Biden is committed to evading the Taylor Force Act, Washington will still be part of the problem rather than the solution.

With the intersectional left largely calling the tune in a Biden administration that has been in thrall to so-called “progressives” and their even more radical allies in the congressional “Squad” since it took office on a host of issues, the issue goes deeper than mere indifference. In a party and administration where adherence to toxic left-wing myths like critical race theory is pervasive, the labeling of Israel as a state benefiting from “white privilege” and oppressing “people of color” is routine. Among such people, genuine concern about terrorist murders of Israelis isn’t terribly likely. That’s why despite lip service being paid to the memory of Elan Ganeles, the Biden administration has become a principal obstacle to efforts to end Palestinian terrorism.

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.

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