End Funding of Palestinian Terror
On Sept. 15, a 45-year-old American-Israeli man was walking into a mall in Efrat, Israel, frequented by Palestinians and Israelis alike. What is normally a place of everyday coexistence became a scene of terror: A Palestinian attacker stabbed the man, Ari Fuld, in the back. Mortally wounded but armed, Fuld used his last seconds to shoot his attacker before more shoppers could be harmed. Fuld’s funeral, per Jewish custom, took place the next day.
Per Palestinian custom, the terrorist, who survived, will receive cash payments for the rest of his life, as will his family. This custom is enshrined in detailed laws adopted and administered by the Palestinian Authority, accounting for an astonishing $370 million, benefiting 36,000 recipients. The PA’s terror budget increases every year as more attackers and their families are added to the rolls. Already, a PA official confirmed to the Times of Israel that the terrorist’s family would soon begin receiving monthly payments: “We are not bashful or secretive about our support for our prisoners,” he said.
The PA’s pay-for-slay program is why the U.S. Congress passed the Taylor Force Act this year, and part of why the Trump administration closed the PLO office in Washington and cut aid to organizations, including UNRWA and programs administered by USAID, that support the Authority. Since money is fungible, every dollar of western aid is one more dollar the PA can spend rewarding terrorists and their families.
For doing this, the administration has been harshly criticized by devotees of the peace process. Cutting aid, they claim, is rash and undeserved, will reduce U.S. leverage, and will empower Palestinians who say the PA shouldn’t even pretend to seek peace with Israel.
These critics are wrong, but currently their arguments are largely unopposed. The administration has yet to make a serious case for why its aid cuts encourage peace, not undermine it. This explanation is the missing piece of the administration’s admirable steps to impose consequences on the Palestinian Authority’s support for violence.
In 2002, after Israel intercepted a massive Iranian arms shipment destined for the Palestinian Authority, the Bush Administration realized further investment in Yasser Arafat’s PA was foolish. But President Bush didn’t just suspend his involvement in the peace process -- he delivered a speech in the Rose Garden exposing Arafat’s involvement with terror. Because so much of the Palestinian conflict with Israel depends on false but media-friendly narratives, the speech ended up being just as important as the policy.
The Trump administration’s reluctance to make its case has its own consequences: It allows critics to portray cuts as merely a product of personal animosity or the influence of pro-Israel advisers, rather than sound strategic thinking. Having been successfully portrayed as an aberration, no-strings U.S. aid can be quickly restored by the next administration.
Feeding this problem is the State Department’s reluctance to comply with the Taylor Force Act. That bill became law six months ago, and by now State should have sent several unclassified reports to Congress detailing the pay-for-slay program, PA laws supporting it, and U.S. and U.N. efforts to inform allies how the PA uses foreign aid money. To date, State has not complied.
Aid cuts are the first meaningful U.S. policy shift since the Oslo Accords in 1993, and they come after decades of official PA support for terrorism. None of the many reform efforts promoted by the United States have changed PA policy or rhetoric. The Trump administration has spent more than a year pleading with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to change course, but he has repeatedly declared pay-for-slay a red line that will never be crossed.
Similarly, the Palestinian Authority has violated its Oslo commitment not to pursue spurious prosecutions of Israeli officials in international bodies like the International Criminal Court. And it has refused every attempt by the Obama and Trump administrations to join meaningful peace talks.
The Palestinian Authority’s recalcitrance matters, because U.S. aid was never envisioned as a permanent entitlement or act of charity. We have provided aid because we judged it in our national interest to support state-building and peace, and we believed money would promote those goals.
But our money has had the opposite effect: It has rewarded rejectionism, promoted contempt among Palestinian leaders for the United States and encouraged a Palestinian society in which virtually every function of governance -- from trash collection and schools to hospitals and infrastructure -- comes from Western aid.
These are not conditions in which peace is possible. Rather, they result in more people meeting Ari Fuld’s terrible fate. In cutting aid, the administration is showing the Palestinian leadership that actions have consequences. What’s missing now is enforcement of the Taylor Force Act and a strong public case by the administration explaining the United States must get out of the business of inadvertently funding Palestinian terror, hate and corruption in the West Bank and Gaza.
Lt. Gen. Thomas Trask, USAF (ret.) is former Vice Commander of U.S. Special Operations Command and a member of the Jewish Institute for National Security of America’s (JINSA) Board of Advisors. Mr. Gerber is a Distinguished Fellow with JINSA’s Gemunder Center for Defense and Strategy. The views expressed are the author's own.