Abbas vows to keep paying families of 'martyrs, prisoners'

Trump signs into law bill slashing PA funds over terrorist stipends

Included in massive $1.3 trillion spending package, Taylor Force Act clears final hurdle as White House prepares to unveil Mideast peace plan to an already unhappy PA

President Donald Trump reaches to touch a copy of the $1.3 trillion spending bill as he speaks in the Diplomatic Room of the White House in Washington, Friday, March 23, 2018, as Vice President Mike Pence, left, and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross watch. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
President Donald Trump reaches to touch a copy of the $1.3 trillion spending bill as he speaks in the Diplomatic Room of the White House in Washington, Friday, March 23, 2018, as Vice President Mike Pence, left, and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross watch. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

WASHINGTON — US President Donald Trump signed into law on Friday legislation that cuts some aid to the Palestinians until they end stipends to terrorists and the families of slain attackers, as he approved a massive $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill.

The Taylor Force Act, which was named after a former US army officer who was stabbed to death by a Palestinian terrorist while visiting Tel Aviv, was included in the legislative package.

The law will halt US funding to the Palestinian Authority until Ramallah stops issuing such payments. But it includes three exceptions, allowing for US funding to Palestinian water and childhood vaccination programs, as well as to East Jerusalem hospitals.

On Friday morning, Trump tweeted that he was “considering” vetoing the budget bill, since it didn’t include full funding for the US-Mexico border wall, but he then orchestrated a news conference announcing he would sign it.

Up until Friday, Trump had not yet explicitly stated whether he would sign the Taylor Force bill into law, though a White House official told The Times of Israel in July that the president supports its principal objective.

One of the Taylor Force Act’s authors, Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, thanked the family and friends of Taylor Force, who lobbied Congress to pass the bill and include in the omnibus.

Taylor Force, murdered in Israel by a Palestinian terrorist in March 2016, gave his name to the Taylor Force Act, legislation proposing to halt US aid to the Palestinian Authority until the latter stops paying stipends to terrorists and their families. (Facebook)

“I truly appreciate the hard work of the Force family and the many friends of Taylor Force who made it clear to Congress the practice of must be stopped,” he tweeted, hours before Trump signed it into law.

The Palestinian Authority of President Mahmoud Abbas condemned it and vowed to continue paying families of “martyrs and prisoners.”

Yusef al Mahmoud, spokesperson for the PA government in Ramallah, said that the US should instead have called for “ending the occupation and suffering of the Palestinian people.”

Congress, he added, should also  make aid to Israel conditional on “ending its occupation and settlements because it’s the occupation that is responsible for killing our people and throwing them into prison.”

The spokesperson said that the “martyrs and prisoners are, in the eyes of our people, sacred symbols of freedom and struggle and opposition to humiliation and surrender.”

Senator Bob Corker, one of the bill’s main sponsors, has said the Palestinian Authority has created monetary incentives for acts of terrorism by paying monthly stipends of as much as $3,500 to Palestinians who commit acts of violence and to their families.

The amount of the payment depends on the length of the jail sentence they receive for the crime, he said.

Corker, a Republican from Tennessee, is chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Sen. Bob Corker (Republican-Tennessee) during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, February 16, 2017. (AFP/Zach Gibson)

Taylor Force was an MBA student at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee and a West Point graduate who was visiting Israel in March 2016 when he was killed. Force was from Lubbock, Texas. His parents live in South Carolina.

Graham has said the Palestinian Authority praised Force’s killer as a “heroic martyr.” He estimated that the Palestinian Authority has paid $144 million in “martyr payments” over the years.

The act’s passage is likely to further provoke the Palestinian Authority, which has refused to meet with administration officials since Trump recognized in December Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and set in motion plans to move the US embassy there from Tel Aviv.

The White House says it is currently preparing to release its highly anticipated Israeli-Palestinian peace plan in the near future, but it has given no timetable on exactly when.

It’s another step that the Palestinians will regard as punitive after the US cut funding to the UN agency that deals with Palestinian refugees.

The Trump administration announced in January it was slashing $65 million in funding to the UN relief agency for Palestinians this year. But the agency said the actual cut was around $300 million because the US had led the agency to believe it would provide $365 million in 2018.

The US had been UNRWA’s largest donor, supplying nearly 30 percent of its budget. In announcing the cuts in January, the US State Department said it wanted reforms at the agency, which Israel has strongly criticized.

Palestinians collect aid parcels at a United Nations food distribution center in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip, January 28, 2018. (Said Khatib/AFP)

The agency, the oldest and largest UN relief program in the Middle East, provides health care, education and social services to an estimated 5 million Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. They are the refugees or descendants of the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who either fled or were forced from their homes during the war that led to Israel’s establishment in 1948.

Israel has long complained that UNRWA, unlike UNHCR, has no limits to its recognition of refugees, allowing unlimited generations of descendants, including those born in other countries or who are citizens of those countries, to continue to be classified as refugees in perpetuity.

The UN has since received pledges of nearly $100 million in new funding for UNWRA from Qatar, Canada, Switzerland, Turkey, New Zealand, Norway, Korea, Mexico, Slovakia, India and France.

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