Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

US cuts funds to the Palestinian Authority over its "pay to slay": Should Australia follow suit?

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Sharyn Mittelman

 

The US Congress officially passed the Taylor Force Act on March 23, which requires that the US halt its funding to the Palestinian Authority (PA) if the latter refuses to end its "martyr" compensation scheme, which provides lifetime monthly stipends to convicted terrorists relative to their sentences and to the families of slain terrorists. It was part of a large US$1.3 trillion budget Bill that US President Donald Trump signed into law after passing Congress.

The legislation is named after an American citizen and US army veteran Taylor Force who was killed in a stabbing attack by a Palestinian terrorist in Jaffa in 2016 that also injured eleven people. Given that the terrorist who killed Force died while committing an act of terror, his relatives are paid a monthly stipend by the PA's Martyr's Fund.

The White House said in a statement that it "commends the Congress for including the Taylor Force Act, which prohibits most US foreign assistance that directly benefits the Palestinian Authority (PA) until the PA ends the abhorrent practice of providing payments to terrorists and their families in reward for acts of violence."

The legislation was initially introduced by Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, with exclusive GOP support, but following some amendments it gained bipartisan support. Democratic New York Senator Chuck Schumer, the Senate minority leader, said that the "passage of the Taylor Force Act will serve as a shot across the bow to President Abbas, as he must be held accountable for the Palestinian Authority's record of incitement and subsidizing of terror. It is my hope that by enacting this bill we can put an end to the Palestinian Authority's disturbing practice, all while honoring the memory and sacrifice of Taylor Force."

The legislation includes exemptions for PA projects that will continue to receive US funding including hospitals in east Jerusalem, wastewater programs and child vaccination initiatives. Moreover, the US will continue to provide funding for the PA's security and intelligence forces, which have cooperated with Israel in stopping terror attacks.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked Congress and President Trump for signing the law, and said, "I think this is a powerful message from the United States that changes the rules." He said the law will deprive the PA of "millions of dollars it uses to invest in supporting terror and cultivating the terrorist families and murderers themselves."

PA President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the Bill and vowed to continue to pay the families of "martyrs and prisoners."

The Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) envoy to Washington, Husam Zomlot, also criticised the legislation as politically motivated, and said that the Bill "punishes" the PA, "which is the only agency committed to peace and nonviolence, and undermines the American-Palestinian bilateral relationship and decades of US investments in the two-state solution."

However, the Taylor Force Act highlights the hypocrisy of Zomlot's statement. The PA cannot claim that it is committed to "non-violence" if it is encouraging its people to become terrorists by providing financial incentives. If it truly wants to be considered as committed to non-violence, then it should rid itself of its institutionalised incitement. Such incitement includes not only payments to convicted terrorists and their families, but also the naming of public streets and buildings after terrorists and encouraging "martyrdom" even in children's television programs.

The Australia government may wish to consider whether the Taylor Force Act is relevant to Australian funding to the PA. In January last year, former Prime Minister of Australia Tony Abbott wrote an article in the Spectator calling for Australia to cut its $40 million year aid budget to the PA while it "keeps paying pensions to terrorists and their families".

In response, Australia's Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said Australia's aid to the Palestinians has "robust risk management and due diligence assessment processes" that also apply to partner agencies and governments. In addition, Bishop said the government had a "zero tolerance policy" for fraud and corruption, referring to the suspension and review of funding following 2016 allegations that a World Vision employee was redirecting funds to Hamas.

Moreover, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs website, the Australian government does have a plan to "reduce the proportion of program resources that flow to the PA and increase the proportion that goes directly to promote economic growth in the agriculture sector."

For an overview of Australian funding to the Palestinian Territories, see here.

In any case, the passage of the Taylor Force Act sends a strong message to the PA that it can no longer have it both ways - it cannot pretend to be a partner for peace in English, and call for martyrs in Arabic, and then pay terrorists and their families. This message to the PA will be even stronger if it is supported by other principled actors in the international community.

 

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