A year ago, West Point graduate and combat veteran Taylor Force was stabbed to death by a young Palestinian who also wounded 12 others in an attack on tourists in Israel. It is tragic and ironic that Taylor risked his life serving the United States in combat deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq, only to be senselessly killed as a civilian. Sadly, he joined a long list of Americans killed in Palestinian attacks over the years. The Senate recently reintroduced legislation bearing his name – the Taylor Force Act – to help protect Americans, Israelis and other innocent victims from his fate. Congress must pass the Taylor Force Act.
These attacks are fueled partly by the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) practice of paying salaries and benefits to attackers and their families. Since the PA receives approximately $300 million annually in U.S. economic support funds – a significant portion of which supports the PA’s budget – American taxpayer dollars are being used, unintentionally, to incentivize and reward terrorism.
The PA’s program consists of systematic, regular payments to “anyone incarcerated in [Israel’s] prisons for his participation in the struggle against the occupation.” Palestinian laws codifying these payments also describe imprisoned terrorists as “a fighting sector and an integral part of the weave of Arab Palestinian society.” This violates the Oslo Accords and numerous U.N. Security Council resolutions.
Starting the day of an attacker’s arrest, the PA pays for prisoners’ canteen expenses, provides a salary, health benefits and, for those sentenced to five or more years, a guaranteed government job upon release. Indeed, the longer the sentence, the better the salary and position. The families of “martyrs” also receive large payments for the loss of their family member.
In 2016, the PA spent $129 million on salaries for imprisoned and released terrorists, and $173 million on payments to families of deceased terrorists. These payments account for seven percent of the total PA budget and 30 percent of the foreign aid it receives. Shortly after the murder of Taylor Force, Fatah, the political party of PA President Mahmoud Abbas, posted a statement online praising the attacker as a hero and “martyr.” There is no reason to believe the PA’s incitement will end without strong external pressure.
This problem has not gone unnoticed by Congress. As part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016, it reduced U.S. economic assistance to the PA equivalent to the amount the PA devotes to these salaries. While well-intended, this does not address the underlying problem. After this law passed and U.S. aid was reduced, the PA’s official 2016 budget actually increased these payments by $13 million over the previous year. Moreover, the root problem persists, since the PA still receives U.S. funds that it can redirect toward these payments.
Therefore a new approach is needed: conditioning all U.S. economic support funds for the PA on the PA’s behavior. The Taylor Force Act, introduced by Senator Lindsay Graham, does precisely this. It prohibits U.S. aid to the PA until the State Department certifies the PA is: “taking steps to end violence,” like that which took the life of Taylor Force; “publicly condemning such acts of violence;” and “has terminated payments for acts of terrorism.” The new law would not affect U.S. security assistance to the PA, which remains separate from these funds.
If passed, this legislation could push the PA to become a true partner for peace, spur the PA to stop rewarding terrorism and underpin the robust counterterrorism policy the Trump Administration seeks to pursue.
Certainly, this approach entails risk. Threatening to cut off this aid would confront the PA with greater incentive to change than it faces currently, but that incentive could be dulled if neighboring countries simply backfill the PA’s budget. If this aid is not backfilled, and the PA persists in supporting terrorism, the ensuing deficits could weaken an already shaky PA, thereby undermining its robust security cooperation with Israel and strengthening Hamas in the West Bank. This is why many in the Israeli government oppose such measures. Yet these future uncertainties must be weighed against the clearly untenable status quo, and against the immorality of U.S. taxpayer funds being used to finance and reward terrorism.
No American, Israeli or Palestinian should suffer Taylor Force’s tragic fate. Conditioning our aid to the PA may not end incitement for terrorist attacks, but doing nothing only guarantees the violence will persist. At minimum, this law would make it extremely difficult for the PA to continue to incentivize these attacks using U.S. funds.
Since this Act improves the chances for reducing terrorist attacks on civilians, it is a chance worth taking. Honor the legacy of a brave American veteran and pass the Taylor Force Act.
Michael Barbero is a retired U.S. Army Lieutenant General who served four years in Iraq.
The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.