Hundreds of former generals and senior security officials warned that proposed US legislation to cut funding to the Palestinian Authority unless it stops payments to terrorists may harm Israel’s security.
Commanders for Israel’s Security issued a statement saying that the Taylor Force Act, named after the American killed last year in a stabbing attack in Tel Aviv, could bring about the end of security cooperation between Israel and the PA.
The bill would cut all US funding to the Palestinian Authority except that earmarked for the Palestinian police, some $60 million in 2013, a fraction of the approximately $500 million Palestinians have received annually from the United States.
Although Commanders for Israel’s Security support the basic premise of the proposed legislation, the group said that withdrawing funding from the PA could weaken its authority and allow extremists factions to take over. The group said a strong PA is necessary for Israeli security and that the proposed US legislation should be modified to ensure the PA’s control is not harmed.
The statement, issued Wednesday, ends by calling on the Israeli government to ask Washington to amend the legislation.
“Their intentions are pure. Their friendship is beyond a doubt. But if enacted, this legislation might undermine PA stability; expand the circle of frustration and hostility; erode the security coordination; and thus hurt Israeli security,” an English version of the statement published in Haaretz read.
“Demanding that the PA ends incitement, continues fighting terror and upgrades security coordination with our forces – certainly!,” the statement said. “Hindering the PA’s ability to do all that – absolutely not!”
Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have publicly decried the PA payments to the families of jailed and slain attackers.
A number of pro-Israel groups have also backed the act, including the Zionist Organization of America, the Orthodox Union, the Republican Jewish Coalition and Christians United for Israel. However, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the powerhouse among pro-Israel groups, has yet to fully embrace it, although AIPAC also appears to be edging closer.
The Taylor Force Act was first introduced in 2016 by Republican South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham with former Indiana Republican Sen. Dan Coats and Missouri Republican Sen. Roy Blunt. It was referred to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at the time, but never came up for a vote.
The legislation was named after Force, a former US army officer who was stabbed to death in March 2016 by a Palestinian terrorist while visiting Tel Aviv. Force was a graduate student at Vanderbilt University and was traveling with other students on a program studying global entrepreneurship. Force was 29 years old at the time and had served in Iraq and Afghanistan
On Thursday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday defended payments to Palestinian prisoners, including convicted terrorists, as a “social responsibility.” He also reportedly rejected demands conveyed by US envoy Jared Kushner to cut payments to at least the 600 most serious jailed terrorists.
Palestinian Authority leaders are open about their policy of providing salaries and other benefits to Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons, including those convicted by Israeli civil courts of murder and terrorism, as well as to their families if they are killed while carrying out their attacks.
But the PA says that since 2014, these funds have been paid through the Palestine Liberation Organization, not the PA’s own budget, and so are not drawn from foreign donor governments’ development grants. Critics note that the heads of the PA and PLO are the same individuals, and insist the PLO uses PA funds for the payments
As per Palestinian law, Ramallah pays nearly $170 million a year to prisoners and families of terrorists. Prisoners’ monthly allowances increase with the length of sentence. According to MEMRI, the allowances range from $364 (NIS 1,500) a month for a term of up to three years, to $3,120 (NIS 13,000) for a term of 30 years and more. There is a monthly $78 supplement for terrorists from Jerusalem and a $130 supplement for Arab Israeli terrorists.
Eric Cortellessa and JTA contributed to this report.