The Israeli Knesset building. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.
JNS.org – The passage of an Israeli law to withhold funds that the Palestinian Authority (PA) uses to pay terrorists for killing Jews is the correction of an unconscionable injustice. That a democratic country with a High Court of Justice has allowed itself to transfer funds to a murder-sponsoring entity within its midst is not just bad policy, but completely illegal and utterly immoral.
Israeli parliamentarians finally awoke to the reality that the PA pays more than $360 million a year to terrorists serving prison sentences in Israeli jails and the families of terrorists killed in the act of attempted murder. The payment scheme, on the law books of the PA from as early as 2011, bases payment amounts to each terrorist or family on the severity of the jail term, with additional incentives for terrorists holding Israeli identification cards.
But Israel was not the first country to legislate against the “pay to slay” practice. In March, the United States passed the Taylor Force Act, which prohibits the US from sending foreign aid to the Palestinian Authority as long as the payment scheme is in place, though it remains to be seen how the act will work in practice and whether the Trump administration will indeed suspend this aid on a permanent basis.
The bill was named after Taylor Force, a 26-year-old American West Point graduate who served tours of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq. Taylor was visiting Israel as part of an entrepreneurial seminar connected to an MBA program at Vanderbilt University when he was stabbed to death on a popular Tel Aviv promenade by a terrorist from the Palestinian city of Kalqilya.
February 21, 2019 4:55 am
The terrorist was killed by police responding to the attack. To add insult to injury, Palestinians celebrated Taylor’s death, and soon afterwards the terrorist’s family began receiving large monthly stipends well in excess of average Palestinian salaries.
Several months later, Sander Gerber, a private New York financial executive and former board member of AIPAC, reached out to Taylor’s parents Stuart and Robbi Force. Gerber had recently been made aware of the payment scheme and was shocked to learn that most Israeli and American politicians were unaware that terrorists were being paid to kill.
Gerber began a relentless campaign to research and expose the full and precise nature of the stipend scheme. What he found with the help of the research and legal teams at Palestinian Media Watch was that the scheme was more sophisticated than any Israeli politicians had ever imagined. Hundreds of millions of dollars were paid each year in salaries directly to terrorists and their families.
No longer was the PA simply guilty of incitement to murder through school textbooks, television stations, social media, and frequent speeches by Palestinian leaders, including PA head Mahmoud Abbas, calling for the blood of Jews. The PA was now proven to be an official terror-sponsoring entity.
Worse yet, most of the funds utilized to secure the PA’s budget and make the terror payments came either by way of foreign aid provided by the United States and others or through a tariff agreement with Israel whereby funds are collected on behalf of the PA at ports of entry and then passed monthly by Israel to the PA.
With this information in hand, Gerber enlisted Taylor’s parents in a campaign to educate lawmakers. Together, they demanded that both the United States and Israel stop sending funds proven to be going into the hands of murderers.
For the United States, the issue was easier than for Israel. The foreign aid that America provides is voluntary and can be withheld if it is deemed to be detrimental to America’s interests. For Israel, there were additional legal questions, since the funds are collected by Israel on behalf of the PA as part of the Oslo Accords. Yet once it was clearly established that the sponsorship of terror was a direct violation of the Oslo Accords, legal concerns were eased.
In America, the Taylor Force Act was signed into law in March. It took several more months for Israel to follow suit. Despite calls by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for funds to be withheld from the PA as early as 2015 — coupled with his express support for the passage of the Taylor Force Act — the Netanyahu government sought to insert a waiver provision into the Israeli law. The waiver would have given Israel’s government the right to pass any funds withheld over to the PA at a later date based on security or geopolitical concerns, such as pressure from the international community. Such a provision would have rendered the law useless.
The argument in favor of the provision was that withholding funds from the PA could lead to its collapse. Proponents of the waiver essentially were suggesting that the risk of a PA collapse and the uncertainty that might follow is more dangerous than giving the PA funds that are then used to incentivize murder.
Wth the help of sponsors MK Elazar Stern (Yesh Atid) and MK Avi Dichter (Likud), who is currently chairman of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, a strong push was made to pass a law that did not give any option for a governmental waiver. Pressure was also exerted by several Israeli victims of Palestinian terror led by Shai Maimon. After weeks of deliberations, the law secured the support of coalition and opposition members and passed this week by a resounding vote of 87-15, well beyond the normal tally of Knesset votes.
The passage of both the US and Israeli versions of the laws to withhold funding is a testament to the relentless pursuit of Gerber and the Forces — who were both present for the Knesset vote — and others. At an Israeli event in celebrating the outcome, Force’s father noted that because they weren’t government officials, it might have been easier to push for the two laws’ passage.
Other countries are now taking notice. On the same day as the vote in Israel, Australia also announced it would withhold funds from the PA, and European nations may soon do the same.
The issues now relate to the implementation and enforcement of the laws, as well as what to do with the withheld funds. In the United States, the State Department must provide evidence that the payment scheme remains in place for the funds to be withheld. According to the Taylor Force Act, that discovery process needs to begin now, some 90 days after the law’s passage.
According to the Israeli law, a review of the Palestinian budget line items and payment scheme must take place at the end of each calendar year. According to this provision — unless a stricter interpretation of the law is demanded — Israel will continue to send the monthly payments until the start of 2019, when a presentation will be made as to whether the payments have halted or not. If not, funds can be withheld in February.
Gerber, Force, and the backers of the Israeli law are pushing for any funds withheld to be paid out to the victims of Palestinian terror who have secured judgements against the PA in court. This represents the truest form of justice: to take the funds once designated for the murderers and provide them instead to the victims.
Both the US and Israeli laws represent the first major steps in holding the PA accountable for nearly three decades of incitement and terror financing.
Alex Traiman is the Managing Director and Jerusalem Bureau Chief of the Jewish News Syndicate.