PART 1 of series on Israel’s counterpart to Taylor Force Act

Will Israel pass a law to offset ‘pay-to-slay’ stipends to jailed Palestinian terrorists?

While America was able to pass its version of the Taylor Force Act as part of an omnibus spending bill, the Israeli bills to offset terror payments have stalled for months, highlighting key differences between the U.S. foreign-aid payments and Israeli tax-revenue transfers.

Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a meeting with members of the Central Committee in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Jan. 14, 2018. Credit: Photo by Flash90.
Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a meeting with members of the Central Committee in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Jan. 14, 2018. Credit: Photo by Flash90.

Knesset members are advancing competing laws with the start of Israel’s new parliamentary session to serve as the equivalent to America’s Taylor Force Act, which sanctions the Palestinian Authority’s “pay-to-slay” policy of providing terrorists and their families official stipends for the murder of Jews.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has praised America’s passing of the act, named after 28-year-old U.S. military veteran Taylor Force, who following tours in Iraq and Afghanistan was killed in a Tel Aviv terror attack in March 2016.

Yet Israel continues to transfer approximately NIS 600 million ($170 million) per month to P.A. without any sanctions, as part of a tax-collection arrangement brokered during the signing of the 1993 Oslo Accords, whereby Israel collects and transfers import duties at Israeli ports on behalf of the Palestinian Authority.

Each year, Israel transfers NIS 8.5 billion (more than $2.4 billion) in tax payments. The P.A. budget this year is NIS 18.5 billion ($5.2 billion).

MK Elazar Stern attends a Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee meeting at the Knesset, on March 1, 2017. Credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

Israel’s monthly tax transfers take place on schedule, despite the fact that Israel has known since as early as 2011 that as much as 10 percent of these funds are directed to the official Palestinian Prisoners’ Fund and Martyrs’ Fund, which provide hefty salaries and pensions to terrorists incarcerated in Israeli jails and to the families of terrorists who were murdered while committing acts of terror.

The first bill to offset payments to the P.A. was drafted by Maj. Gen. (res.) Elazar Stern of the Yesh Atid Party, part of the opposition in the Knesset, and has already advanced through the first of three required readings before it can be passed into law.

“I initiated the bill to prevent the absurd situation in which terrorists with blood on their hands receive proper salaries from the Palestinian Authority during their trial and while in prison,” said Stern. “This behavior of the Palestinian Authority encourages others to carry out acts of terror, and this must be stopped.

“I urge the government to expedite the process of promoting the law. I intend to raise it for second and third readings in the Knesset plenum in the coming weeks,” Stern told JNS.

A second government-sponsored bill is being promoted by Israel’s Defense Ministry, led by Minister Avigdor Lieberman of the Yisrael Beyteinu Party.

The ‘devil’ they know . . .

While America was able to pass its version of the bill as part of an omnibus spending bill, the Israeli bills to offset terror payments have stalled for months, highlighting key differences between the U.S. foreign-aid payments and Israeli tax-revenue transfers.

Members of Israel’s governing establishment worry that withholding payments to the P.A. could represent an abrogation of the Jewish state’s responsibilities under the now infamous Oslo peace accords, which can cause a public-relations challenge for Israel, particularly in Europe and at the United Nations.

Furthermore, because the sums the P.A. transfers to terrorists and their families are so large, offsetting them from tax-revenue transfers is likely to cause a major fiscal crisis within the P.A. Such a crisis could further threaten the stability of an already fragile and corrupt Palestinian regime. Many within the Israel establishment are worried that a fiscal shortage could result in the actual collapse of the P.A., an eventuality many Israeli officials would like to delay as long as possible.

According to Harold Rhode, a former adviser on Middle Eastern affairs in the U.S. Department of Defense, the Israeli establishment is faced with a difficult choice: crack down on the P.A., regardless of the risk of collapse; or continue to support it, regardless of its unending campaign of anti-Semitic rhetoric and outright violence.

“Israelis are invariably more comfortable with the ‘devil they know’ than the ‘devil they don’t know,’ ” Rhode told JNS. “And as such, worried about what may follow, they continue to prop up the current version of the Palestinian Authority, despite their continued incitement to terror, and direct financial incentives to terrorists.”

While the Palestinian policy of providing significant ongoing and sometimes lifelong stipends to terrorists and their families has been known for years, it is only in the past several months that the sheer amounts—nearly 10 percent of the P.A.’s total budget—and the sophisticated scale of payments have been revealed and publicized.

Action urged before Knesset’s summer recess

Much of the work to uncover the advanced payment schemes and to inform government officials in Israel, the United States and in the European Union has been organized and researched by Palestinian Media Watch, under the leadership of founder Itamar Marcus, and director of legal initiatives Lt.-Col. (ret.) Maurice Hirsch, former head of military prosecution for Judea and Samaria, where he tried countless criminal and civil cases against terrorists and the P.A.

The organization has researched and verified line items in the P.A. budgets, and identified the terrorists and families that receive payments, even linking each terrorist to their victims, and tracking the amount each killer or family has received for their acts of murder.

“The goal is not to collapse the P.A.; the goal is to hold them responsible and cause them to stop paying salaries to terrorists and the families of dead terrorists,” Hirsch told JNS.

Hirsch is working to strengthen both Stern’s proposed law, as well as the government’s version of the bill, acknowledging that both had significant flaws in their initial formulations, including loopholes that could empower the Israeli government to simply “withhold” the tax payments “as opposed to confiscating them,” which ensures that the money will not be handed over later to the P.A. in the case of international pressure.

Hirsch prefers that confiscated funds be transferred to the families of terror victims instead of to the terrorists.

“We don’t care which version of the law gets passed,” Hirsch said, noting that within the government and the opposition, there appears to be “a genuine commitment to see a law passed in this current parliamentary session—before the summer recess on July 22.”

The Taylor Force Act being introduced by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.) and Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) in 2016. Taylor Force’s father, Stuart Force is pictured center-right. Credit: Twitter.

In between Knesset sessions, Palestinian Media Watch sent extensive comments regarding the proposed laws to the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, as well as to Stern. Both parties have been actively working to improve the laws based upon the recommendations.

“During the recess, what we tried to stress was that every single day that passes while there is no law, the Palestinian Authority pays more than 3.3 million shekels [nearly $1 million] in salaries to terrorists,” said Hirsch. “So if the Knesset was on break for 40 days, that is more than 133 million shekels [$38 million] transferred by Israel to the Palestinian Authority and then paid to terrorists just in the period of the recess.”

Meanwhile, the foreign-aid sanctions legislated by the Taylor Force Act are set to commence in the coming weeks. The bill gave the Palestinians 30 days to comply with the restrictions and demonstrate that it has ceased “pay-to-slay” payments. In direct defiance of the Taylor Force passage, the P.A. recently released its current budget figures. The Palestinian Prisoners’ Fund and Martyrs’ Fund budgets were notably still on the books.

“Once the Secretary of State can certify that the Palestinian Authority has not met the requirements of the Taylor Force Act,” explained Hirsch, that declaration “institutes the sanctions, which include the withholding of foreign aid to the Palestinian Authority.”

Palestinian Media Watch will soon release a new report further detailing the ongoing scope of payments, and delivering the report to administration officials and relevant members of Congress.

“A week after the opening of the American Embassy in Jerusalem,” which is scheduled for May 14, the 70th anniversary of the declaration of the State of Israel on the secular calendar, “there can be an announcement by the United States to the Palestinian Authority, saying that you are not getting any more money,” said Hirsch.

Hirsch is hopeful that Israel—which he says should have been leading the charge to sanction the P.A.—will follow America’s lead and stop providing such funding.

In the upcoming session, it will become clearer whether the government intends to pass the law or whether a watered-down version of either of the laws would render their passing insufficiently effective. Hirsch remains hopeful that there is enough political will to have a strong law passed.

“This is not a politicized issue,” emphasized Hirsch. “This is a practice which has been internationally condemned.”

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