Tuesday, October 3rd | 19 Tishri 5784

July 18, 2023 3:47 pm

50 US Lawmakers Call on Biden to Negotiate End to Palestinian ‘Pay for Slay’


avatar by Andrew Bernard

The US Capitol dome in Washington, DC, December 17, 2020. Photo: REUTERS/Erin Scott

A bipartisan group of 50 members of Congress on Tuesday wrote to Secretary of State Antony Blinken urging him to negotiate an end to the Palestinian Authority’s so-called “pay for slay” program.

The letter, led by Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), notes that the Palestinian “Martyrs’ Fund,” which makes official payments to Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails, the families of ‘martyrs’ killed in attacks on Israelis and to injured Palestinian militants, makes up about 8% of the Palestinian Authority’s total budget, costing the PA roughly $300 million a year.

“The Palestinian Authority has clearly continued down the path of more hatred, violence, and terror, without regard for the damage inflicted, or for their role in diminishing the prospects for peace,” the letter says. “But, so long as they pay citizens to murder civilians, they will do so without benefiting from the support of United States taxpayers. We know that the Administration shares the view that support for terrorism and the Palestinians’ characterization of the martyr payment system as a form of social welfare is unacceptable.”

Under the Taylor Force Act of 2018, the US government is prohibited from funding the Palestinian Authority so long as it maintains the pay-for-slay payments. The act was named for a US army veteran, Taylor Force, who was killed in a Palestinian stabbing attack in Tel Aviv in 2016 in which 11 others were also injured. The attacker, 21-year-old Bashar Masalha, was killed by Israeli police, but his family receives a monthly payment from the Martyrs’ Fund.

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Some Republicans in both the House and Senate have previously questioned whether the Biden administration was violating “the spirit, if not the letter” of the Taylor Force Act by providing aid to organizations like the United Nations Relief Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), which is not covered by the act but that provides health and education funding that would otherwise have to be footed by the Palestinian Authority.

In May, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Barbara Leaf testified to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the State Department was working to end pay-for-slay and denied that the US was funding the PA.

“We abhor prisoner payments and we have raised these concerns repeatedly to the Palestinian leadership,” Leaf said. “We are fully compliant with the Taylor Force Act. No money goes to the Palestinian authority.”’

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has repeatedly rejected calls to halt the payments, which are enshrined in Palestinian law.

Tuesday’s letter calls on the State Department to update Congress on the status of its efforts to end the pay for slay program and urges the administration to raise the issue with Palestinian officials.

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