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February 15, 2018 4:57 pm

US Senate Version of Taylor Force Act Leaves PA With No Room for Maneuver on Terrorist Payments

avatar by Ben Cohen

Sens. Lindsey Graham and Bob Corker announcing the passage of the Taylor Force Act through the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in August 2017. Photo: Screenshot.

The US Senate is preparing to vote on the Taylor Force Act that links US financial assistance to the Palestinians with a verifiable end to the Palestinian Authority’s policy of “martyr payments” to convicted terrorists and their families – and the final version of the bill leaves the PA with little room to maneuver if it wants to continue receiving US aid.

Named in memory of the former American army officer stabbed to death by a Palestinian terrorist in Tel Aviv in March 2016, the Taylor Force Act passed the House of Representatives by unanimous consent in December 2017. At the time, some supporters of the legislation expressed concern about exemptions that were introduced for certain infrastructure projects in the PA, as well as a “sunset clause” that would require the Act to be renewed six years from now.

The Senate version of the legislation, however, contains no sunset clause and only one exemption – for the East Jerusalem Hospital Network, a grouping of six hospitals that operates independently of the PA and receives a portion of the annual $75 million the US spends on providing power and specialized medical services to Palestinians.

Notably, the legislation contains stringent reporting requirements from the US State Department in ascertaining whether the PA has taken credible steps to end the “martyr payments” – dubbed by critics as “pay-to-slay”– along with any laws legitimizing these payments. Crucially, the secretary of state is instructed to present an annual unclassified report to Congress on several key matters emerging from the legislation.

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These include the amount of money expended by the PA on the “martyr payments” over the previous 12 months; an overview of PA laws enabling such payments; a description of all US diplomatic engagements with the PA related to meeting American aid conditions; and a review of US efforts to encourage other countries to adopt similar policies with regard to the PA.

In reporting back to Congress, the secretary of state will be mandated to explain why the PA, or the PLO and its affiliate organizations, have not met US conditions for the receipt of financial aid. The secretary is also required to specify the dollar amount of aid that is being withheld, along with a list of affected programs.

Should the PA revise its policy, the legislation will then require the secretary of state to confirm every 180 days that the US guidelines are being adhered to. Withheld funds will be placed in a special Palestinian Authority Accountability Fund (PAAF) and can be redirected to other beneficiaries of US aid if the PA continues with its current policy.

The Senate is expected to vote on the legislation within the next two weeks. If the House decides not to adopt the Senate’s version of the Act, then the legislation will be reconciled by a Congressional committee.

In 2017, the PA spent $355 million on payments to the families of terrorists who were either convicted by an Israeli court or died in the process of executing their attacks. Meanwhile, the US is the PA’s largest international donor, having provided over $700 million in indirect aid to the PA and the Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA in 2016.

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