Israel said pushing US to amend law that threatens security coordination with PA

TV report says Washington shutdown raising obstacles, as White House scrambles to find solution to new anti-terror rules that will effectively strip Ramallah of security funds

Michael Bachner is a news editor at The Times of Israel

File: Palestinian security forces in Hebron, November 14, 2017. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)
File: Palestinian security forces in Hebron, November 14, 2017. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

Jerusalem is pressing Washington to amend a law that threatens to effectively halt all US aid to Palestinian Authority security forces, dealing a “fatal blow” to Israel’s security coordination with the PA, according to a TV report. But the US government shutdown is making such an amendment difficult before the legislation comes in to effect next week.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office and Israel’s embassy in Washington have contacted the White House, the US State Department and top Congress members, asking them to either amend the law known as the Anti-Terrorism Cooperation Act (ATCA) or find another solution enabling the funds transfer, Channel 13 reported Wednesday, citing unnamed senior Israeli officials.

Under the law, US courts will have the jurisdiction to rule on cases against any foreign party that accepts US aid and which has been accused of supporting terrorism. In practice, that means American victims of Palestinian terrorist attacks would be able to file lawsuits against the PA and PLO in US courts for compensation — possibly in the hundreds of millions — if Palestinians accept even one penny of US aid.

The Palestinian Authority subsequently informed US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that it will no longer accept any American security aid dollars as of the beginning of February. PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah sent a letter to Pompeo on December 26, 2018, telling him that the PA would reject US financial support because of the new law.

The Trump administration is scrambling to find a solution after belatedly realizing that eliminating the security aid, which totaled $61 million in 2018 even as other Palestinian assistance was being cut, would be unpopular with both Israel and the PA, threatening its Middle East peace plan.

Palestinian Authority security forces touring Israeli-controlled Hebron in uniform. (Wafa)

The Channel 13 report said that the Israeli defense establishment was similarly concerned by the developments, with Kamil Abu Rokon, the Israeli military liaison to the Palestinians (formally known as the coordinator of government activities in the territories), raising the matter with US Army Lt. Gen. Eric Wendt, the American security coordinator for Israel and the PA.

Last month, Wendt urged lawmakers in Congress to come up with a short-term fix to the law, to allow the aid to continue.

“If the American law isn’t changed and a solution isn’t found, it could be a fatal blow to the security coordination with the Palestinian Authority,” a senior defense official was quoted as saying. “It will harm a top Israeli security interest.”

The report said that Trump’s advisers were aware of the problem and trying to find a solution together with the Prime Minister’s Office, but added that the US government shutdown was making such a solution very difficult to achieve since legislative attempts to amend the ATCA were on hold.

In his letter to Pompeo, Hamdallah wrote: “The Government of Palestine respectfully informs the United States Government that, as of January 31, 2019, it fully disclaims and no longer wishes to accept any form of assistance referenced in ATCA… the Government of Palestine unambiguously makes the choice not to accept such assistance.” He added that the PA would reconsider its decision if ATCA were changed in a way that would protect it from lawsuits in American courts.

Last week, Channel 13 reported that outgoing IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot urged the Israeli government to strengthen PA security forces, saying their operations were in Israel’s best interest and noting that they had recently thwarted a Hamas terrorist attack in the West Bank.

The US government has been shut down for more than a month, over a dispute between Trump and Congressional Democrats regarding a border wall with Mexico.

Adam Rasgon and AP contributed to this article.

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