Taylor Force Act Advances Through Committee With Support of Democrats

Bill aimed at stopping Palestinian funding of terrorists passes on 17-4 vote

Getty Images
August 3, 2017

Legislation that would cut U.S. funding to the Palestinian Authority until it stops payments to terrorists and their families passed through the Senate Foreign Relations Committee with bipartisan support.

The bill passed through the committee in a 17 to 4 vote. It was supported by all of the Republican members of the committee, including Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.), an original cosponsor of the bill, and six of the Democrats—Sens. Ben Cardin (Md.), Bob Menendez (N.J.), Tim Kaine (Va.), Ed Markey (Mass.), Chris Coons (Del.), and Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.).

The bill, named after an American who was killed by a Palestinian terrorist in Israel last year, would cut off U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority until it ends its "pay to slay" policy which distributes $300 million to terrorists and their families annually.

The committee members also approved an amendment to the bill that would create an escrow account for the money that is being withheld from the Palestinians as a result of the law. The escrow period was set at one year, and the money will be released only if both the payments to terrorists are stopped and the "pay to slay" laws are officially repealed.

Sen. Kaine, who voted in favor of the bill, proposed during the committee meeting that the escrow period should be set at two years.

He also proposed that money should be released if the Palestinian Authority "initiated" the process to cease payments to terrorists, arguing that mandating full legislative repeal could be "too high of a hurdle" for the Palestinians.

Both ideas failed to receive Republican support and were rejected by the committee.

Sen. Bob Corker (R., Tenn.), chairman of the committee, said that he hopes the bipartisan support the legislation received in committee will remain constant once the vote moves to the full Senate.

"I am proud of what we have done today," said Corker in a press conference following the hearing. "I like the way that we are able to work together to make good things happen for our nation relative to foreign policy."

Corker said the purpose of the escrow amendment is to send the message that the goal is not to cut off aid, but rather to cut off bad behavior.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.), who introduced the Taylor Force Act in the Senate, shared Corker's sentiments.

"This is a big day, but we're not there yet," Graham said. "This bill came out with a lot of bipartisan support and that support will grow on the floor."

Sen. Rubio also praised the bipartisan support for the act.

"The Taylor Force Act's strong, bipartisan support in committee sends a powerful message that the United States should hold the Palestinian Authority accountable for any payments to terrorists who engage in terrorism or violence against Israelis or Americans, or any payments to the families of terrorists," said Rubio. "‎The Palestinian Authority's pay-for-slay program for terrorists is an outrage, and this bill will help bring an end this abhorrent practice."

The laws put in place by Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas reward terrorists with monthly payments. The payments grow depending on the severity of the terrorist attack.

An attorney representing the Force family celebrated the legislations advancement through the committee, but stressed that it will need to be strictly enforced.

"The Taylor Force Act is an important first step towards preventing U.S. aid to the Palestinians from being used to further induce terrorist attacks and glorify the prisoners and families of suicide bombers," said Nitsana Darshan-Leitner of the Israel Law Center. "The Act and its enforcement can only be as strong as the will of the current U.S. administration to really withhold their funding if the Palestinians don't undertake a serious commitment to reform their society and its glorification of violence and extremism."

The four Democrats on the committee who voted against the bill were Sens. Cory Booker (N.J.), Chris Murphy (Conn.), Tom Udall (N.M.), and Jeff Merkley (Ore.).

Update 2:45 p.m.: This post has been updated with comment from Nissan Sarshan-Leitner.