from Pressure Points and Middle East Program

The Omnibus Appropriations Bill and Payments for Terrorists

December 24, 2014

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The Omnibus Appropriations bill recently passed by Congress contains an interesting provision regarding the support for terrorists and their families by the Palestinian Authority:

The Secretary of State shall reduce the amount of assistance made available by this Act under the heading “Economic Support Fund” for the West Bank and Gaza by an amount the Secretary determines is equivalent to that expended by the Palestinian Authority in payments to individuals and the families of such individuals that are imprisoned for acts of terrorism or who died committing such acts during the previous calendar year.

The intent is clear: Congress was aware of the PA’s practice of rewarding individuals who had committed acts of terrorism with direct financial support or financial support for their families while they remain in prison. And Congress wants to be sure that aid from the United States isn’t paying for this, so for every dollar the PA spends we will reduce aid to the PA by the same amount.

Good idea, long overdue-- but the language quoted above won’t achieve that goal. First of all, why only acts committed "during the previous calendar year?" Does that mean that payments to someone who committed an act of terrorism two or five or ten years ago is exempt? Does that clause about "the previous calendar year" modify "imprisoned for acts of terrorism," or "who died committing such acts," or both? Or does it modify all "payments," which would be the logical meaning: the amount of U.S. aid is to be reduced by the amount of all payments made in the prior year? Sloppy, last minute drafting of this provision is the culprit.

The United States reduces the amounts of loan guarantees available to Israel by the amounts Israel spends on settlement construction in the West Bank. There is a procedure in place, whereby Israel tells the United States how much has been spent, State Department or USAID officials verify the amount, and then Israel is informed about the deduction.

There’s no procedure in place, as far as I can see, to implement this new provision. The new Republican-led Congress should rewrite the above provision to clarify its meaning and establish some procedures. For example, the State Department should keep a running tally of all PA expenditures on behalf of all convicted terrorists and their families, and report it to Congress twice a year. As a condition of receiving any aid, the PA should pledge to keep a tally itself and report it to the United States. Once a year, State should report to Congress the amount it has actually deducted from aid to the PA, and announce this publicly.

But meanwhile, American officials dealing with the PA--in the U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem--should tell the PA the intent of Congress is clear. For every dollar they spend rewarding terrorists, their aid will be cut by the same amount--starting now.

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