Australia should fund Palestinian welfare, but not “pay to slay”

Australia should fund Palestinian welfare

Sharyn Mittelman


An edited version of this article appeared in the Daily Telegraph – 2 April 2018

A key obstacle to peace between Israelis and Palestinians is the institutionalised incitement to anti-Israel violence by the Palestinian Authority (PA). Such incitement includes the naming of public streets and buildings after terrorists and encouraging “martyrdom” throughout the media, even in children’s television programs.

Perhaps the worst aspect of this incitement, however, is the PA’s “martyr” compensation scheme, which incentivises terrorism by providing lifetime monthly stipends to convicted terrorists relative to their sentences and to the families of slain terrorists. The worse the crime you commit, the more money you receive. The PA recently announced that its budget for 2018 will include US$403 million for such payments.

The United States Congress has now decided to act against this nefarious scheme. The Taylor Force Act, officially passed on March 23, requires that the US halt its funding to the PA if the latter refuses to end its “martyr” compensation program.

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, Israel in 2016 which 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 has achieved 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 thwarting terror attacks.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas disappointingly 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 ironically 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.”

Zomlot’s statement demonstrates the hypocrisy and double-dealing of the PA. It cannot claim that it is committed to “non-violence” while 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 eliminate its institutionalised incitement.

The Australian government should now consider the relevance of the Taylor Force Act to Australian funding to the PA. In January last year, Tony Abbott called for Australia to cut our $40 million annual aid budget to the PA while it “keeps paying pensions to terrorists and their families”.

In response, 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.”

It is true that we can follow the money we provide the PA to ensure it doesn’t go directly to funding terrorism, but our funds still free up other money the PA can then use for its terror incentive scheme.

However, 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, such as Australia.

Sharyn Mittelman is a Senior Policy Analyst at the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council.