WASHINGTON — Members of Congress and top experts disagreed yesterday about whether the Biden administration has been complying with the Trump-era law to withhold economic assistance from the Palestinian Authority.
The 2018 Taylor Force Act ended economic aid for the Palestinian Authority over the Palestinian Authority’s controversial policy of compensating the families of terrorists who died or have been imprisoned. Critics of the policy dub it “Pay to Slay,” and say it incentivizes terrorism against Israeli citizens and visiting Americans.
Congress passed the Taylor Force Act to prevent U.S. taxpayer dollars from incentivizing or funding Palestinian terrorism by cutting aid to the Palestinian Authority until the organization ceases to operate a fund providing salaries for families of deceased and imprisoned terrorists. During the hearing representatives of both parties expressed support for the Taylor Force Act, and questioned the witnesses on whether the Biden administration is complying with provisions of the Trump-era law.
“It is clear the Biden administration is not in compliance. The Palestinian Authority still has this fund in operation,” said Rep. Mike Lawler, R-NY. “The Biden administration resumed levels of payments and encouraged the Saudi government to do so.”
However, when asked by Rep. Dean Phillips, D-MN, the three witnesses disagreed on whether the Biden administration is complying with the law.
Elliott Abrams, President George W. Bush’s deputy national security advisor, said the Biden administration is “not fully” in compliance, but he said “our money is not going to the PA,” referring to the Palestinian Authority. Abrams believes the Biden Administration is not following the law’s requirements to highlight the issue of the Palestinian Authority funding terrorism at the United Nations and in relations with other countries.
Another witness said the president is following the law.
“We are in compliance, but there are other things we can do to tighten the legislation and cut indirect support,” said Dr. Jonathan Schanzer, a researcher from the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. In the hearing Schanzer favored strengthening the legislation. Dr. Michael Koplow, chief policy officer for the Israel Policy Forum, also agreed that the Biden administration is in compliance.
After the hearing, Rep. Brad Sherman, D-CA, a long-time member of the committee who voted for the Taylor Force Act in 2018, said he believes the administration is technically complying with the law, but that perhaps the administration’s actions to fund projects in the West Bank are against the “spirit and purpose of the law.” Sherman also emphasized the need for the United States to see what can be negotiated between Israel and Arab states like Saudi Arabia on the Palestinian issue.
In July of this year, the Biden administration announced new contributions of $316 million to the “Palestinian people” on projects such as critical services for Palestinian refugees and improving access to healthcare and technology. Some of the contributions the Biden administration is making to Palestinians utilize exceptions in the Taylor Force Act, such as the $100 million grant to the East Jerusalem Hospital network. The hospital network is left out of the funding freeze implemented by the Taylor Force Act.
The Taylor Force Act passed by a large bipartisan margin of 256-167 in the House as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018. President Trump signed it into law. The Act is named for American military veteran and graduate student, Taylor Force, who was killed in a terrorist attack in 2016 while on a tour with other Vanderbilt University students in Jaffa.