Senate

GOP senators introduce bill targeting Palestinian 'martyr payments'

Republican senators on Monday introduced legislation aimed at more vigorously disrupting the policy of the Palestinian Authority to pay a salary to families of alleged Palestinian terrorists who are killed or imprisoned by Israeli forces - so-called "martyr payments."

The draft bill, called the Taylor Force Martyr Payment Prevention Act, would open up foreign banks to American sanctions if they are found to knowingly process the martyr payments.

The bill builds on legislation passed in 2018, the Taylor Force Act, that restricted U.S. assistance to the Palestinian Authority over its policy of paying salaries to families of alleged Palestinian terrorists. Advocates against such payments dub the policy the "pay-to-slay" program. 

The legislation is named for Taylor Force, an American Army veteran who was stabbed in a terrorist attack by a Palestinian assailant in Tel Aviv in 2016. Force later died from his wounds. Ten others were wounded in the attack and the assailant, a Palestinian, was shot dead by Israeli security forces.

Lawmakers passed the Taylor Force Act in 2018 as an effort to pressure the Palestinian Authority to end the program, saying the "martyr payments" incentivized Palestinians to carry out terrorist attacks by offering financial benefits for their families.

The program, instituted by the Palestinian Authority in 2004, lays out a tiered system of payments to the families of Palestinians who are killed, injured or imprisoned by Israel. Many of these people have carried out - or have been injured or killed while carrying out - alleged attacks.

"In the years since our son Taylor was killed in 2016, my wife and I have been dedicated to making certain that at least some good emerges from the tragedy," Stuart Force, Taylor's father, said in a statement.

"We've recently come to the realization that the job is half done; the truth is that martyr payments have continued and those responsible have not been held accountable."

Force highlighted at least two banks in Qatar that are accused of carrying out transactions for martyr payments, the Qatar National Bank and Masraf Al Rayan.

The two banks, along with Qatar Charity, are the subject of at least two U.S. lawsuits brought forward by American victims of terrorist attacks in Israel, who claim that the banks and charity knowingly facilitated financial activities of terrorist groups. The suit says that the entities are connected to the Qatari royal family and the government.

"I would hope that the government of Qatar, which functions as a U.S. ally in several ways, would use its good offices to encourage the leading banks in their country to act in a more responsible manner," Force said in the statement. "No foreign bank from any country which participates in rewarding those who kill innocent Americans should be able to evade responsibility."

The legislation is being led by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and supported by Sens. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Mike Braun (R-Ind.), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Rick Scott (R-Fla.), Roger Marshall (R-Kan.), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Ted Hagerty (R-Tenn.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).

"The Taylor Force Act of 2018 helped stop the abhorrent practice of pay-to-slay, but our work isn't finished," Cotton said in a statement to The Hill.

"We must do everything in our power to end the payment of cash for our citizens' lives. This bill would stop foreign banks that help pay terrorists to kill Americans from holding or using accounts in the United States."

Republicans and Democrats are opposed to the martyr payments, and the Palestinian Authority reportedly considered proposals to roll back the program in 2020 as a goodwill gesture toward the incoming Biden administration. 

But in an apparent affront to the administration, the Palestinian Authority reportedly ordered the payment of more than $40,000 to the family of alleged terrorist Muhannad Halabi - who was identified by Israeli security forces as carrying out a stabbing attack in Jerusalem's Old City in 2015, killing two Israelis and wounding a woman and her 2-year-old son. 

Halabi was shot and killed by Israeli security forces and the family home was demolished by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), a controversial policy that the IDF says deters future attacks. 

Former President Trump cut off all communication and U.S. assistance to the Palestinian Authority in 2018 as part of efforts to pressure change in the governing body, but the move was widely viewed as removing the U.S. from a position as neutral arbiter in the Israeli and Palestinian conflict and aligning itself with Israel.

Biden restarted economic and humanitarian aid to the Palestinians, with his administration saying the funding is going directly to groups engaged in this work and does not benefit the Palestinian Authority, in line with the Taylor Force Act.

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