A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers is calling on the State Department to update Congress on negotiations to end the Palestinian Authority’s policy of paying terrorists.
In a letter sent to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the 50 members of Congress noted with concern the uptick of violence in Judea and Samaria in recent months and the P.A.’s refusal to condemn the killings of Israelis while at the same time continuing its “pay for slay” program.
Led by Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), the letter was signed by 30 Democrats and 20 Republicans.
“For some Palestinians, terrorism literally pays. As you know, the Palestinian Authority has for decades provided financial compensation and other benefits to families of terrorists jailed in Israeli prisons and ‘martyrs’ killed while carrying out attacks against Israelis,” the missive reads.
“The Palestinian Authority has clearly continued down the path of more hatred, violence and terror, without regard for the damage inflicted or for their role in diminishing the prospects for peace. But, so long as they pay citizens to murder civilians, they will do so without benefiting from the support of United States taxpayers. We know that the administration shares the view that support for terrorism and the Palestinians’ characterization of the martyr payment system as a form of social welfare is unacceptable.”
The Palestinian Authority Martyrs Fund costs the P.A. more than $300 million annually, or 8% of its budget.
According to an analysis of the P.A.’s 2017 budget by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, $346 million was paid to “martyrs” and prisoners (33,000 recipient families) compared to $213 million for social welfare benefits (118,000 recipient families).
Since 2014, the U.S. has transferred financial aid to P.A. creditors rather than provide direct budgetary support in an effort to end the “pay for slay” program.
This policy was strengthened by the bipartisan Taylor Force Act (2018) that President Donald Trump signed into law. Named after Taylor Force, an American tourist murdered by a Palestinian terrorist in Jaffa in 2016, the law prohibits direct U.S. funding of the P.A. until it ends the policy of paying terrorists and their families.
Citing recent examples of Palestinian terrorists murdering innocent civilians, the letter states that “those behind these heinous acts are lauded by Palestinian society, and it is abundantly clear that these payments continue to reward and incentivize terror.”
In addition to updating Congress, the letter urges the Biden administration to continue to bring up the issue with Palestinian officials.
The Taylor Force Act mandates an annual report by the State Department for six years that includes updates on estimates of P.A. terrorism payments, the legal basis for these payments and U.S. efforts to end these payments and any legal basis for them.
“I’m hoping that this letter will result in congressional hearings to examine the Taylor Force Act five years post its passage,” Sander Gerber, a distinguished fellow at the Jewish Institute for National Security of America and a fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, told JNS.
“The administration claims that they are complying. That they have a legal team that is ensuring compliance. But the administration continues to violate the substance of the Taylor Force Act,” Gerber explained.
He said that the State Department has chosen to classify the report updating Congress that the Taylor Force Act requires to be submitted on a regular basis.
“In order for the Palestinian Authority to change its ways, ‘pay-for-slay’ cannot be buried. It must be brought to light so that the world can see that supporting the Palestinian Authority is in fact supporting payments to kill,” Gerber continued.
“I have no doubt that the [Biden] administration does not like the ‘pay for slay’ policy because obviously it is a barrier to peace, but their efforts to stop it have been quiet.”
Gerber cited as examples President Joe Biden not mentioning the policy publicly during a visit with P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas and the State Department welcoming Palestinian officials like those “from any other nation, which ignores the fact that they have a legal infrastructure to pay civilians to kill civilians.”
Since Biden took office, his administration has increased funding for the P.A., prompting a lawsuit by terrorism victims and their families last year. The lawsuit contends that the Biden administration violated the Taylor Force Act when it announced in July of last year $316 million in additional funding to support the Palestinians.
“This is on top of the more than half a billion dollars the United States has provided to the Palestinian people since the Biden administration restored much-needed funding to the Palestinians,” the White House said in a statement.
Meanwhile, a bill is advancing in the Knesset that would remove barriers that prevent civil tort claims against terrorists, including the Palestinian Authority. The “Compensation for Terror Victims” bill calls for courts to be “required to award exemplary damages” by establishing a minimum compensation of at least 10 million shekels (~$2.8 million).