Breaking silence, AIPAC announces support for Taylor Force Act
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Breaking silence, AIPAC announces support for Taylor Force Act

Day before powerful Senate panel to consider bill, pro-Israel lobby says markups protecting humanitarian programs and security cooperation earn its backing

Eric Cortellessa covers American politics for The Times of Israel.

Masked Hamas terrorists attend the funeral of Mazen Fuqha in Gaza City, March, 25 2017. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)
Masked Hamas terrorists attend the funeral of Mazen Fuqha in Gaza City, March, 25 2017. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

WASHINGTON — A day before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will consider a revised version of a measure that would strip US funding to the Palestinian Authority over its practice of paying terrorists and their families, the most powerful pro-Israel lobby in Washington broke its silence and came out in support of the bill.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) urged the panel on Wednesday to vote yes on the Taylor Force Act, as it is due to meet on Thursday and the bill is on the agenda. Passage would send the bill to the entire Senate chamber.

For the last several months — since South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) introduced the motion in February — AIPAC has refrained from unequivocally endorsing the bill, instead saying simply that it supported its principle objective.

But after the Senate unveiled an updated version Tuesday, AIPAC extended the legislation its full embrace.

The new text incorporates some of the concerns expressed among committee members, like allowing for continued funding to the PA for humanitarian efforts and security cooperation, but it does not include a waiver that would grant the US president the ability to disregard the law on national security grounds.

AIPAC signaled on Wednesday that the provisions were critical for earning its backing.

“The Taylor Force Act does not affect US funding for security cooperation, nor does it cut humanitarian programs if the US government can certify that the PA is taking credible steps to end violence against Israelis and Americans,” the group said on Twitter.

The group sent a letter to senators urging them to support the revised bill.

“We are hopeful that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee markup will produce a strong, bipartisan bill that will send a very clear message to the Palestinian Authority: Stop these payments to terrorists and their families or your assistance will be cut.”

Other provisions of the bill call on “all donor countries” to “cease direct budgetary support until the Palestinian Authority stops all payments incentivizing terror” and requires the PA to revoke any laws that result in terrorists being compensated.

The State Department, furthermore, would be mandated to put out an annual, declassified report detailing the PA’s practices regarding cash payments that reward terrorism.

The bill is named after a former US army officer who was stabbed to death by a Palestinian assailant while visiting Tel Aviv in March 2016.

US President Donald Trump announced last month that he supported the bill’s goals but did not unequivocally endorse it. That was, however, before the latest version was released.

“While the administration agrees with the high-level goals of the Taylor Force Act, it is currently in Congress’s hands and we will continue to closely monitor the specifics of the legislation,” a White House official told The Times of Israel last month.

US President Donald Trump, left, and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas shake hands during a joint press conference at the presidential palace in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on May 23, 2017. (AFP/MANDEL NGAN)
US President Donald Trump, left, and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas shake hands during a joint press conference at the presidential palace in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on May 23, 2017. (AFP/MANDEL NGAN)

Initially, the administration was quiet on the bill, leaving some on Capitol Hill questioning whether Trump and his team feared it would disrupt their attempts to broker a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians, a “top priority” for the White House.

But Trump did reportedly confront PA President Mahmoud Abbas about Palestinian terror payments during their May meetings in Washington and Bethlehem.

There has also been speculation that the Israeli government did not actually support the measure. Israel’s Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer tried to quell those suspicions during his address to the Christians United for Israel’s annual conference two weeks ago.

“Israel believes that the United States should end economic assistance to any government that pays people to kill Jews,” he told a crowd at the Christians United for Israel’s annual conference in Washington. “Period.”

Vanderbilt University held a campus memorial service for Taylor Force, above, on March 18, 2016. (Facebook)
Vanderbilt University held a campus memorial service for Taylor Force, above, on March 18, 2016. (Facebook)

“I can assure you that Israel is not the slightest bit concerned that the Taylor Force Act will pass,” he added. “Israel would be concerned if the Taylor Force Act didn’t pass.”

According to a recently published Israeli report, the Palestinian Authority’s 2017 budget for payments to inmates in Israeli prisons and so-called “families of martyrs” is equal in sum to about half of the foreign aid Ramallah expects to receive this year.

Moreover, the PA Finance Ministry’s 2017 budget, published on its website earlier in July, said that salaries to incarcerated and released Palestinian prisoners, many of whom are convicted for terrorism, will amount to NIS 552 million ($153.4 million) this calendar year.

The United States currently gives the PA nearly $500 million in annual aid. The legislation would allow only the portion designated for security assistance — roughly $60 million — to remain in place.

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