The Palestinian Authority is continuing to pay out salaries to convicted terrorists using funds provided by the American taxpayer, a policy that defies a recent U.S. law mandating the PA stop these subsidies or face a cutoff in U.S. aid dollars, according to U.S. and Israeli lawmakers who spoke to the Washington Free Beacon.
Palestinian officials in recent days have rejected a new U.S. law, known as the Taylor Force Act, or TFA, that bans the PA government from providing salaries to terrorists and their families, a longstanding policy that had become the center of controversy after it was found U.S. taxpayer aid dollars to the Palestinians had been used to subsidize this practice.
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While the Taylor Force Act—named after an American who was killed by a Palestinian terror attack in 2016—mandates the PA cease these payments or face a cutoff in U.S. aid, Palestinian officials have made clear in recent days they have no intention of ending this practice of funneling U.S aid dollars to the Palestinian Authority Martyr's Fund.
Palestinian leaders have continued to praise the so-called "pay-to-slay" policy since the TFA's passage, prompting outrage and concerns from Israeli and U.S. lawmakers who spoke to the Free Beacon about the situation.
Rather than obfuscate these payments, as the PA did for many years to avoid public disclosure, Palestinian officials have begun to brag about them. Mahmoud Abbas, the PA's longstanding president, vowed to continue these payments and defy the new U.S. law earlier this year.
"There is something that the Americans are telling us to stop—the salaries of the martyrs and the martyrs' families," Abbas said in January, when the new law was being debated in Congress. "Of course we categorically reject this. We will not under any circumstances allow anyone to harm the families of the prisoners, the wounded, and the martyrs. They are our children and they are our families. They honor us, and we will continue to pay them before the living."
The 2018 PA budget further codifies this policy, according to Palestinian Media Watch, or PMW, an organization that tracks governments in the region.
The PA's new budget is reported to allocate nearly 8 percent of its total operational budget to the martyr's fund, according to PMW. This amounts to around 44 percent of total foreign aid dollars budgeted to the PA, or about $355 million in U.S. dollars.
Rep. Doug Lamborn (R., Colo.), who played an instrumental role in pushing the new law to end these payments, told the Free Beacon Congress will not stop pressing the PA to end this practice.
"The Taylor Force Act makes the United States' stance clear: We will not fund state-sponsored terrorism with American taxpayer dollars," Lamborn told the Free Beacon. "No more will innocent Americans die at the hands of Palestinian terrorists. There is certainly more work to be done in terms of protecting Americans abroad and working with our ally, Israel. I will continue to see this through."
The TFA mandates the U.S. State Department certify to Congress within a month that the PA and Palestine Liberation Organization, or PLO, have ceased payments to terrorists and their families. If the State Department cannot provide assurances, the United States must withhold a large portion of its yearly aid to the Palestinian government.
Israeli lawmakers also remain concerned about the PA's continued use of foreign aid to pay terrorists.
Oded Forer, an Israeli Knesset member with the conservative Yisrael Beiteinu party, told the Free Beacon that peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians should be conditioned on these payments being halted.
"The U.S. and Israel need to do everything possible to stop payments to the Palestinian Authority until it ends its ‘pay to slay' program," said Forer, who is a member of the Israel Victory Caucus, a joint U.S.-Israeli partnership among lawmakers from both countries. "Furthermore, this should be a prerequisite for any peace talks. It is impossible that our so-called peace partners are paying and incentivizing murder, while pretending to talk peace."
Israeli lawmakers are working on a counterpart to the TFA that would withhold Israeli funds to the PA until payments to terrorists and their families are stopped.
"These types of actions serve to send a message to the Palestinians that this is your last chance to come back from the brink and to protect lives in Israel," Forer said. "We are optimistic that with the current American administration there is a deep understanding that the situation needs to change and the Palestinians have already been put on notice with the moving of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and the defunding of UNRWA [the United Nations Relief Works Agency] that their violence and rejectionism will no longer be tolerated or infantilized, but will be sternly acted against."
However, it remains unclear how willing the Palestinian government is to go along with the United States' and Israel's demands.
Just days after the United States passed the TFA, a PA government spokesman doubled down on the policy.
"In the eyes of our people, our nation, and our cause, the martyrs and prisoners are sacred symbols of freedom, struggle, protecting human dignity, and resistance to submission and humiliation," the spokesman was quoted as saying, according to PMW. All of these titles are noble titles, and an anchored right of all humans, which cannot be bought or sold for any fortune in the world."
E.J. Kimball, director of the Israel Victory Project, told the Free Beacon that the pro-Israel community will not let the issue fade following the passage of the TFA.
"Passage of the Taylor Force Act shows that Congress is confronting Palestinian rejectionism in a bipartisan manner," said Kimball, who helped galvanize U.S. lawmakers behind the legislation. "We will continue to work with members of the Congressional Israel Victory Caucus to take the necessary steps to convince Palestinian society that their future will only improve when they turn rejectionism into recognition of the Jewish State."