CAMERA Op-Ed: The Palestinian Authority has chosen terrorism over US foreign aid

When someone says it’s not about money,” the satirist H.L. Mencken famously said, “it’s about money.” Yet, the recent decision by the Palestinian Authority to refuse U.S. aid is about more than money. It’s about the refusal by the P.A. to be held accountable for the acts of terrorism that the West Bank-ruling entity endorses.

In a Dec. 26, 2018 letter made public several weeks later, P.A. Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah told Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that the Authority would reject U.S. financial support. The letter spelled out why: “The Government of Palestine respectfully informs the United States Government that, as of January 31st, 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.”

The ATCA is the Anti-Terrorism Cooperation Act, which was signed into law by President Trump in October 2018. It took effect on Feb. 1, 2019. It gives American courts jurisdiction over lawsuits filed against foreign entities that accept U.S. aid if they are accused of supporting terrorism. If Mahmoud Abbas’ P.A. were to take the money, then, it could be sued in American courts, along with the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Lawsuits brought by U.S. victims of Palestinian terrorism could force the P.A. or PLO. to pay compensation “possibly in the hundreds of millions” if either entity accepts “even one penny of aid,” Times of Israel reporter Adam Rasgon pointed out.

NPR reported the P.A. was rejecting American aid on Jan. 18, 2019. However, what Hamdallah’s letter reveals about the P.A. has gone largely unremarked upon by press and pundits.

It is official P.A. policy to pay terrorists for committing attacks, as the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, or CAMERA, has highlighted. Palestinian laws passed in 2004 and amended in 2013 stipulate that convicted terrorists receive monthly “salaries.” Additionally, cash grants and priority civil service job placements are offered to those who carry out terror attacks.

Indeed, although some have claimed that the P.A. denies supporting attacks, they do not deny it when speaking in Arabic. The 2004 law specifically states that the money is for the “fighting sector,” which it described as “an integral part of the fabric of Arab Palestinian society.” And Sander Gerber and Yossi Kuperwasser, both Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, or JCPA, analysts, have pointed out that Palestinian officials often refer to these terror trust fund recipients as “soldiers and sons of our nation.”

Despite some pundits’ portrayal of the terror slush fund as merely a “social welfare” system for the families of imprisoned or deceased terrorists, Palestinian law explicitly refers to the payments as “salaries,” even withholding income tax on them. In 2018, JCPA notes, the P.A. budgets allocated a total of $340 million overall — fully 7 percent of the annual budget — for these blood money payments.

In March 2018, the U.S. Congress passed the Taylor Force Act, which proposed to halt American aid to the P.A. until it ceased sending money to terrorists and their families via the so-called Palestinian Authority’s Martyrs Fund. P.A. President Abbas responded in a July 2018 speech, swearing: “Even if we have only a penny left, we will give it to the martyrs, the prisoners and their families.” He added: “We view the prisoners and the martyrs as planets and stars in the skies of the Palestinian struggle, and they have priority in everything.”

But those “stars” make for a pretty dim future. While journalists and analysts are right to highlight how the loss of aid can hinder social welfare projects, they should be contemplating what the Authority’s decision reveals.

The P.A. refusal to quit paying terrorists for killing people is an outright violation of the 1990s Oslo peace process that created the P.A. in the first place. In exchange for committing the PLO to recognizing “the right of Israel to exist in peace and security” and renouncing “the use of terrorism and other acts of violence,” Palestinian leadership was allowed to return from Tunisia and given a base for limited self-rule in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Importantly, the P.A. also became a significant beneficiary of international aid — much of it from the United States, which sought to make the Authority a “peace partner” for Israel.

But nearly a quarter century after the P.A.’s May 1994 creation, it’s apparent that Palestinian leadership has chosen a different path. The P.A. stands to lose much by choosing terror over U.S. aid. And both the Palestinian and Israeli people stand to lose even more.

(Note: A slightly different version of this Op-Ed appeared in The Washington Examiner on March 2, 2019)