US lawmakers, experts put Palestinian Authority on notice for ‘Pay for Slay’ terrorist payments

House Foreign Affairs Committee takes aim at Palestinian Authority’s payments to jailed terrorists and their families.

By Andrew Bernard, The Algemeiner

US lawmakers and experts on Wednesday lambasted the Palestinian Authority (PA) for continuing to reward terrorists and their families for carrying out attacks against Israelis, calling on the US government to increase pressure on the Palestinians to compel them to end their so-called “pay for slay” program.

The remarks came during a hearing held by the House Foreign Affairs Committee to discuss efforts to stop the PA from allocating money to its “Martyrs’ Fund,” which makes official payments to Palestinian terrorists held in Israeli jails, the families of “martyrs” killed in attacks on Israelis, and injured Palestinian terrorists.

The hearing — organized by the subcommittee on the Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia — also focused on whether the Biden administration is fully implementing the Taylor Force Act, which prohibits US funding to the PA so long as it maintains its pay for slay program.

The subcommittee’s chairman, Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC), lamented in his remarks how the PA is continuing to pay Palestinian terrorists despite the US Congress passing the legislation in 2018.

“Five years ago, Congress passed the Taylor Force Act, which said that no US economic aid could directly benefit the Palestinian Authority unless the Palestinian Authority fully dismantled this grotesque pay-for-slay system,” Wilson said.

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“Unfortunately, five years later, terrorists are still getting their blood money, and Israelis are living through another wave of violent attacks. Right now, the Palestinian Authority is trying to assert demands and conditions on the normalization talks between Israel and Saudi Arabia. But the Palestinian Authority is paying people to commit acts of mass murder. The United States government cannot take any of their asks seriously until they stop this conduct.”

The exact size of the Palestinian program is disputed. However, it is estimated to be around $300 million annually, or nearly 10% of the entire PA budget, according to the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, an Israeli think tank.

The three expert witnesses at the hearing disagreed about whether the Biden administration was fully compliant with the Taylor Force Act. Elliott Abrams, who most recently served as US special envoy for Iran and Venezuela during the Trump administration, said that while US money does not go directly to the PA, the US is not doing everything it can to pressure others to cut funding to the Palestinians.

Rep. Kathy Manning (D-NC) asked the other two witnesses, Michael Koplow of the Israel Policy Forum and Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, whether the the Taylor Force Act is actually working as intended to force the PA to shut down its pay for slay fund.

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“The Palestinian Authority, of course, has not complied with the requirements in the Taylor Force Act,” Koplow said. But the Taylor Force Act “had an important demonstration effect as well on other countries. The Palestinian Authority is undergoing a severe fiscal crisis as a result, I think that the pressure needs to be maintained on the Palestinian Authority, and I think that the more that that pressure is felt, the closer we will get to the Palestinian Authority ending this awful practice and hopefully instituting a different system that is not based on rewarding terror.”

Schanzer said that it is not clear that the current system can be used to further increase pressure on the Palestinian Authority, because the PA will simply pass on the suffering caused by any further funding cuts to the Palestinian people themselves.

Some Israelis, he explained, have suggested a different solution to him.

“They suggest the implementation of a social security program that would begin to provide a safety net for all destitute Palestinians, people who are in need, and cut this other program entirely,” Schanzer said.

“You could have people who are in jail, or the families of those who are in jail, receiving the same amounts as any other family in the West Bank. That would be an equalizer, if you will, and that would be the way at least one would hope we could cut pay for slay entirely.”

The subcommittee’s ranking member, Rep. Dean Phillips (D-MI), said he believed the ongoing US-led negotiations to achieve a normalization agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia could be an opportunity to take steps to achieve a two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians. However, at least one Republican, Rep. Brian Mast (R-FL), countered that he doubted such a solution was possible, comparing the situation to the two legs he lost while serving as a soldier in Afghanistan.

“I think the two-state solution is dead and I think it should be dead,” Mast said. “I’m missing two legs. Things are never going to be perfect for me, but I work to optimize the status quo that exists for me. I think we should be working to optimize the status quo that exists there because sometimes things just aren’t going to get better at a certain place. I’m not going to regrow legs. I don’t think the two-state solution is going to regrow there.”