By Rafael Medoff/JNS.org
WASHINGTON—Prominent Democrats and major U.S. Jewish organizations are joining President Donald Trump in calling on the Palestinian Authority (PA) to stop making payments to imprisoned terrorists and their families.
Trump raised the issued during his May 3 meeting with PA President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House, and also referred to it in his May 22 press conference with Abbas in Bethlehem, warning that terrorists should not be “tolerated, funded or rewarded.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) recently introduced the Taylor Force Act, which would make U.S. aid to the PA conditional on the latter halting its payments to terrorists and their families. The Palestinian terror payments currently total about $300 million annually. The PA’s payments to imprisoned terrorists increase according to the number of years a terrorist has been behind bars. The bill is named for a former U.S. Army officer who was murdered by Palestinian terrorists in Jaffa last year.
To date, all the cosponsors on the legislation are Republicans. But in recent days, a number of prominent Democrats have joined Trump’s call for ending the terror payments.
A spokesperson for Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) told JNS.org that Schumer “believes it is abhorrent that the Palestinian Authority provides support to terrorists and their families” and “thinks the United States policy should be to seek a way to end this disturbing practice.” With regard to the Taylor Force Act, he “is exploring a variety of ways to push forward this agenda,” the spokesperson said.
Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) told JNS.org he “shares deep concerns” about the PA’s payments to terrorists and believes “this practice should be stopped.” Similarly, in a letter to Trump on the eve of his Mideast trip, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) wrote that “Palestinian leaders must understand unequivocally that the U.S. opposes…continued payments to the families of terrorists.”
Some prominent Democrats in the House of Representatives are also taking a greater interest the issue. Ten-term California lawmaker Rep. Brad Sherman, a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told JNS.org, “I agree with Senator Chuck Schumer’s statement [regarding the payments] fully. I am currently studying the [Taylor Force] bill.”
According to congressional sources, Trump has the authority to unilaterally restrict U.S. aid to the PA. But the president is unlikely to take such a step without bipartisan congressional backing in the form of legislation such as the Taylor Force Act, and strong support from the Jewish community.
Several major American Jewish organizations are signaling their support for the Taylor Force bill. Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman and CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, told JNS.org he supports the legislation.
Marshall Wittmann, a spokesman for the AIPAC lobby, told JNS.org, “We strongly support the legislation’s goal to end these abhorrent payments and we have urged the administration to pressure President Abbas to end this practice. We are committed to working with Congress and the administration in a bipartisan way to bring this practice to an end.”
The American Jewish Committee’s director of media relations, Kenneth Bandler, called the PA’s terror payments “despicable” and said “this reward program incentivizes violence instead of curbing it and nurturing a culture of peace in Palestinian society, and thus is a hindrance to advancing peace.”
“For the U.S., there are various ways to apply pressure, and the Taylor Force Act may be one, if it does not hamper essential Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation,” Bandler told JNS.org.
He added, “President Trump’s call on PA President Abbas, in their Washington and Bethlehem meetings, to formally renounce violence and end all forms of incitement, including the payments, will be critical to any effort to resume Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.”
Sarah Stern, president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth, which has been leading the Capitol Hill lobbying effort for the Taylor Force Act, called the Jewish organizations’ positions “encouraging.” Stern said “there is an emerging bipartisan consensus, in Congress and the Jewish community, that concrete U.S. action, such as the Taylor Force Act, is the only way to stop the PA’s subsidies for terrorism.”