Commentary Magazine


Topic: U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority

The Kidnapping and Palestinian Aid

The United States decision to keep funding the Palestinian Authority even after its leader Mahmoud Abbas welcomed Hamas into the PA’s governing coalition helped legitimize the terrorist group. But in the wake of Hamas’ kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers, it appears that even some of the Palestinians’ most ardent cheerleaders realize that pouring more money into the coffers of the PA right now may be more trouble than its worth. Thus, rather than plow ahead even in the midst of the furor over the Hamas kidnapping, Norway, which chairs the group coordinating international support for the Palestinians, has decided to postpone the next meeting where donors will discuss how to continue funding the PA.

That’s a smart decision but there’s more involved with the question of aid to the PA than bad optics. The willingness of the international community to go on subsidizing the Fatah-run kleptocracy that governs the West Bank despite its alliance with Hamas is clear. The Palestinians remain popular in Europe, though less so in the United States. But the funds that EU nations and the U.S. funnel into the coffers of the PA are supposed to promote peace and economic development. While the world is supposed to believe that the technocratic front men that Abbas appointed to his new coalition cabinet were going to do just that, the kidnapping is a reminder that getting into bed with Hamas involves subsidizing terrorism. The question is when will the Obama administration draw the appropriate conclusion from these events?

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The United States decision to keep funding the Palestinian Authority even after its leader Mahmoud Abbas welcomed Hamas into the PA’s governing coalition helped legitimize the terrorist group. But in the wake of Hamas’ kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers, it appears that even some of the Palestinians’ most ardent cheerleaders realize that pouring more money into the coffers of the PA right now may be more trouble than its worth. Thus, rather than plow ahead even in the midst of the furor over the Hamas kidnapping, Norway, which chairs the group coordinating international support for the Palestinians, has decided to postpone the next meeting where donors will discuss how to continue funding the PA.

That’s a smart decision but there’s more involved with the question of aid to the PA than bad optics. The willingness of the international community to go on subsidizing the Fatah-run kleptocracy that governs the West Bank despite its alliance with Hamas is clear. The Palestinians remain popular in Europe, though less so in the United States. But the funds that EU nations and the U.S. funnel into the coffers of the PA are supposed to promote peace and economic development. While the world is supposed to believe that the technocratic front men that Abbas appointed to his new coalition cabinet were going to do just that, the kidnapping is a reminder that getting into bed with Hamas involves subsidizing terrorism. The question is when will the Obama administration draw the appropriate conclusion from these events?

The standard excuse for propping up the PA no matter what it does is that it serves a purpose in giving the Palestinians some sort of government even if it is corrupt and helps foment the hate the fuels the conflict. Moreover, Israel is very wary about the possibility of a collapse of the PA since it needs a Palestinian interlocutor and, at least, in theory, benefits from cooperation with some of the various security forces that work for Abbas and the PA. The PA runs on graft in the form of no-work and no-show jobs to a vast population of Palestinians whose support for Abbas is bought in this manner. Without such corrupt practices, the PA as it is currently constituted probably cannot survive. That has led to a strange dynamic by which both the Israeli government and AIPAC, the principal pro-Israel lobby in Washington, have often sought to head off efforts by Americans to stop the flow of U.S. taxpayer dollars to the PA.

But the plain fact is that so long as Hamas is in business with Fatah and Abbas, continued U.S. funding of the PA violates U.S. law in the form of the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006. Moreover, even pragmatists who rightly point out that Israel needs the PA in order to avoid having to directly administer the West Bank (Hamas-run Gaza operates as an independent Palestinian state in all but name). But what the kidnapping made clear to both Israelis and the rest of the world is that keeping the tottering PA afloat in this manner may be a case of diminishing returns.

In its current incarnation, the PA does more to prevent peace than to promote it. Its media incites hatred of Israelis and Jews and its focus seems more on glorifying and freeing terrorist murderers than working to build support for the two-state solution that Israel seems to want more than the Palestinians. Moreover, rather than building a Palestinian state, the PA’s efforts are a hindrance to economic development than anything else. The efforts of former PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to create responsible governance and an economy that serves the needs of its people failed due to lack of support from Abbas and Fatah. Giving more money to Abbas under these circumstances is an international vote for a regime that does more harm than good.

Even if we believe the claims that Abbas actually wants peace, recent events prove that he is unable to deliver it. The U.S. and the international community may be waiting for the anger about the kidnapped teens to die down before resuming business as usual with the Palestinians. But simply keeping the money flowing to Abbas and his Hamas partners won’t help the causes of peace and a better life for the Palestinian people. So long as Hamas is part of the PA and continues to commit terrorism and work for Israel’s destruction, the aid must be stopped.

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Continued Palestinian Aid Breaks the Law

Yesterday’s decision by the Obama administration to continue funding for the Palestinian Authority despite its alliance with Hamas terrorists was a blow to the cause of peace as well as a slap in the face to the state of Israel. The administration thinks it can hide behind the pretense that such aid isn’t going to Hamas because it is shielded by a Cabinet of technocrats that have been appointed by PA leader Mahmoud Abbas won’t include a member of the terror group. But no one is fooled by this scam. Hamas is now an integral part of the PA apparatus. Since Hamas has not dropped its call for Israel’s destruction and the slaughter of its population, arguments that it has been co-opted by the supposedly more moderate Fatah can’t be taken seriously. The unity agreement is based on a common abhorrence for peace that is shared by the rank and file of both major Palestinian movements, a point that is proved by Fatah’s repeated rejection of Israeli peace offers and decision to strike a deal with Hamas rather than Israel.

This is a body blow to the cause of peace since without U.S. pressure or even a gesture in the direction of accountability, it’s clear the Palestinian leadership will never recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn.

But as frustrating as this betrayal may be for the broad bipartisan pro-Israel coalition in Washington, this is not just a matter of bad policy. By keeping U.S. taxpayer dollars flowing to the PA, the administration is breaking the law. As Senators Mark Kirk and Marco Rubio pointed out in a letter to Secretary of State Kerry yesterday, U.S. law clearly states that continuing aid to the PA if it has entered into a pact with Hamas is illegal under the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006.

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Yesterday’s decision by the Obama administration to continue funding for the Palestinian Authority despite its alliance with Hamas terrorists was a blow to the cause of peace as well as a slap in the face to the state of Israel. The administration thinks it can hide behind the pretense that such aid isn’t going to Hamas because it is shielded by a Cabinet of technocrats that have been appointed by PA leader Mahmoud Abbas won’t include a member of the terror group. But no one is fooled by this scam. Hamas is now an integral part of the PA apparatus. Since Hamas has not dropped its call for Israel’s destruction and the slaughter of its population, arguments that it has been co-opted by the supposedly more moderate Fatah can’t be taken seriously. The unity agreement is based on a common abhorrence for peace that is shared by the rank and file of both major Palestinian movements, a point that is proved by Fatah’s repeated rejection of Israeli peace offers and decision to strike a deal with Hamas rather than Israel.

This is a body blow to the cause of peace since without U.S. pressure or even a gesture in the direction of accountability, it’s clear the Palestinian leadership will never recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn.

But as frustrating as this betrayal may be for the broad bipartisan pro-Israel coalition in Washington, this is not just a matter of bad policy. By keeping U.S. taxpayer dollars flowing to the PA, the administration is breaking the law. As Senators Mark Kirk and Marco Rubio pointed out in a letter to Secretary of State Kerry yesterday, U.S. law clearly states that continuing aid to the PA if it has entered into a pact with Hamas is illegal under the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006.

The subterfuges that the PA is using to avoid losing the U.S. and European funds that keep its kleptocracy operating are so obvious that surely even the Obama administration isn’t falling for them. As the Palestine Media Watch site pointed out, the PA’s practice of paying salaries to imprisoned terrorists is being discontinued. Instead of direct payments from the PA, the murderers will get their checks from the Palestine Liberation Organization. Where will the PLO get its money? From the PA out of the funds donated by the EU and the U.S, that’s where.

This cannot be allowed to stand. Though the president will be able to use the waivers included in the legislation to violate the clear intent of the legislation, Congress must exact a price for this underhanded subterfuge. Though the president can’t be directly stopped from giving the aid, this extralegal maneuver must be countered by either new legislation that prevents him from funding terrorists or by cuts in allocations to the State Department and future foreign aid bills.

As he has repeatedly shown in the past, President Obama views the rule of law as a flexible concept rather than one that obligates him to respect the will of Congress. But having flouted the law in this case, Congress must restrict his ability to funnel money to Palestinian terrorists in the future.

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Cut off Aid to the Palestinian Authority? Just Enforce the Law.

Last week, Senator Rand Paul set off a furious debate by putting forward a bill that would cut off aid to the Palestinian Authority because of the decision by its leaders to conclude a unity pact with the Islamist terrorists of Hamas. But rather than reap the applause of Israel’s backers, his bill was opposed by AIPAC. Paul’s latest attempt to curry favor with Jews and other members of the pro-Israel community was excoriated by the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin and wound up failing in the Senate.

I thought Paul was wrong to blast AIPAC as betraying its mandate. I also think his isolationism and steadfast opposition to vital military aid to Israel calls into question his bona fides as the author of legislation he called the “Stand With Israel Act of 2014.” But I also disagreed with those who thought the libertarian was wrong to call into question the continued flow of U.S. taxpayer dollars to the PA. The basic flaw in America’s efforts to bolster the peace process from Bill Clinton’s day to the Obama era has been an unwillingness to make the Palestinians accountable for their actions.

But yesterday, Senators Marco Rubio and Mark Kirk provided a timely reminder as to why Paul’s bill was really unnecessary: an aid cutoff because of the Hamas alliance is already mandated by U.S. law.

As Rubio and Kirk wrote in a joint letter to Secretary of State John Kerry:

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Last week, Senator Rand Paul set off a furious debate by putting forward a bill that would cut off aid to the Palestinian Authority because of the decision by its leaders to conclude a unity pact with the Islamist terrorists of Hamas. But rather than reap the applause of Israel’s backers, his bill was opposed by AIPAC. Paul’s latest attempt to curry favor with Jews and other members of the pro-Israel community was excoriated by the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin and wound up failing in the Senate.

I thought Paul was wrong to blast AIPAC as betraying its mandate. I also think his isolationism and steadfast opposition to vital military aid to Israel calls into question his bona fides as the author of legislation he called the “Stand With Israel Act of 2014.” But I also disagreed with those who thought the libertarian was wrong to call into question the continued flow of U.S. taxpayer dollars to the PA. The basic flaw in America’s efforts to bolster the peace process from Bill Clinton’s day to the Obama era has been an unwillingness to make the Palestinians accountable for their actions.

But yesterday, Senators Marco Rubio and Mark Kirk provided a timely reminder as to why Paul’s bill was really unnecessary: an aid cutoff because of the Hamas alliance is already mandated by U.S. law.

As Rubio and Kirk wrote in a joint letter to Secretary of State John Kerry:

The Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006 sets detailed requirements for the continuation of U.S. assistance should Hamas be brought into the Palestinian Authority government. The law is very clear. If Hamas comes to have a role in governance, there must be public acknowledgment of the Jewish state of Israel’s right to exist as well as acceptance of all previous agreements the Palestinians have made with Israel, the United States, and the international community. The law also requires that demonstrable progress be made toward dismantling of Hamas’ terrorist infrastructure and purging of individuals with ties to terrorism. Moreover, Hamas would need to halt its anti-American and anti-Israel incitement. The bar is high because the stakes are high and we must make sure to stand firmly by what we have said. Failing to do so will diminish the credibility of the United States.

Rubio and Kirk are right. No new legislation is needed to make the Palestinians accountable. All that is needed is for the administration to start enforcing the law.

That it won’t do so is pretty much a given. The reason put forward by some in the pro-Israel community for keeping the flow of Uncle Sam’s cash to the PA is a reasonable one. They claim that Israel needs the PA to continue to exist. A collapse caused by the cutoff of Western funds would cause huge problems for the Israelis who always need a Palestinian interlocutor. Israel has no desire to directly interfere in the lives of West Bank Palestinians, most of whom are governed by the corrupt and incompetent PA. It also relies on security cooperation with PA forces to help keep a lid on terrorism, though it can be argued that the PA and its fearful leadership benefits even more from the relationship because the Israelis ensure that Hamas and/or Islamic Jihad can’t topple them as they did the Fatah government of Gaza in 2006.

But as Rubio and Kirk noted in their letter, the deal between Hamas and Fatah explicitly states not only that Hamas won’t disarm or cease support for terror and recognize Israel. Hamas believes the agreement forbids further security cooperation between the PA and Israel.

That pronouncement illustrates Prime Minister Netanyahu’s point about Abbas having to choose between peace with Israel and peace with Hamas. In his desire to flee Kerry’s peace talks rather than be maneuvered into signing a peace agreement he can’t enforce, Abbas has chosen the latter. And U.S. law dictates that consequences must follow.

The key point here isn’t so much about the money, though U.S. aid plays a vital role in keeping the PA kleptocracy afloat. Rather it is that for more than 20 years U.S. governments have been whitewashing and excusing Palestinian actions and defending those decisions by saying that holding the PA accountable is bad for peace, security, and stability. Just as the failure of Kerry’s initiative was due in no small measure to the refusal of the administration to tell the truth about Abbas—who was wrongly praised as a man of peace while Netanyahu was falsely blasted as intransigent—that led the Palestinian to believe that he could stall and then walk out of talks with impunity.

Until the U.S. government starts enforcing those consequences, their behavior will never change. Paul’s bill may have been a piece of unnecessary grandstanding and friends of Israel are right to be wary of an isolationist whose rise bodes ill both for the future of American foreign policy and the U.S.-Israel alliance. But the issue he highlighted is real and demands action that unfortunately won’t be forthcoming from Obama or Kerry. 

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Was Rand Paul Wrong on Aid to the Palestinians? Not Entirely.

Something interesting happened in the Senate this week. Senator Rand Paul is someone who is not generally considered a great friend of Israel because of his knee-jerk isolationism that has led him as well as his far more extreme father to take stands that are antithetical to the U.S.-Israel alliance. But Paul just proposed something most ardent supporters of the Jewish state generally agree with: an aid cutoff to the Palestinian Authority to punish it for the decision to ally itself with Hamas terrorists. Yet AIPAC, the group that is synonymous with the pro-Israel community, wouldn’t support the bill.

That led Paul to go on Steve Malzberg’s Newsmax.com TV show yesterday to express his dismay at AIPAC in what must be considered an attempt to be more Catholic than the pope. His gibes had to sting, especially since most AIPAC supporters are also deeply critical of the PA. AIPAC wasn’t talking but was clearly pleased when Paul didn’t get unanimous consent to put forward his bill and it died on the Senate floor. However Jennifer Rubin, our former COMMENTARY colleague, didn’t pull any punches in her Washington Post blog denouncing Paul’s gesture as a “phony pro-Israel bill.”

Who’s right in this confused squabble? As difficult as it may be to unravel this tangle, the correct answer is all of them, at least in part. How is that possible? It’s complicated.

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Something interesting happened in the Senate this week. Senator Rand Paul is someone who is not generally considered a great friend of Israel because of his knee-jerk isolationism that has led him as well as his far more extreme father to take stands that are antithetical to the U.S.-Israel alliance. But Paul just proposed something most ardent supporters of the Jewish state generally agree with: an aid cutoff to the Palestinian Authority to punish it for the decision to ally itself with Hamas terrorists. Yet AIPAC, the group that is synonymous with the pro-Israel community, wouldn’t support the bill.

That led Paul to go on Steve Malzberg’s Newsmax.com TV show yesterday to express his dismay at AIPAC in what must be considered an attempt to be more Catholic than the pope. His gibes had to sting, especially since most AIPAC supporters are also deeply critical of the PA. AIPAC wasn’t talking but was clearly pleased when Paul didn’t get unanimous consent to put forward his bill and it died on the Senate floor. However Jennifer Rubin, our former COMMENTARY colleague, didn’t pull any punches in her Washington Post blog denouncing Paul’s gesture as a “phony pro-Israel bill.”

Who’s right in this confused squabble? As difficult as it may be to unravel this tangle, the correct answer is all of them, at least in part. How is that possible? It’s complicated.

Let’s state upfront that Paul’s objectives here are to:

a. Seize any opportunity to cut any kind of foreign aid, a cost-effective measure that the isolationist from Kentucky opposes in principle and which enables him to pander to the large group of Americans who also dislike the idea of sending money abroad, especially to unsavory types like Abbas; and

b. Pander to pro-Israel Jewish voters and donors in preparation for his expected 2016 run for president.

Whether one considers Paul to be sincere in his professions of friendship for Israel or not, attacking aid to the PA is an easy way to achieve both objectives and distract Americans from the fact that he also opposes the vital aid that Israel gets to maintain its qualitative military edge over its enemies.

Rubin explains the opposition to the cutoff as something that is both reasonable and linked to Israel’s interests. Quoting the insightful Elliott Abrams, she explains that pulling the plug on all U.S. aid to the Palestinians is not something the Netanyahu government wants. Some of the money goes to help fund the PA security forces that cooperate extensively with the Israelis. Without these funds the PA could collapse and leave the Israelis with the messy job of having to administer the territories as well as depriving them of the assistance that the Palestinians provide in keeping a lid on terror in the West Bank.

Thus, while the Israelis have been denouncing the PA in the last week since Abbas announced the deal with Hamas that put a formal end to the peace talks sponsored by Secretary of State John Kerry, they actually don’t want anyone in Washington to act on those complaints, at least with regard to the money that the U.S. funnels to the PA.

That means Paul’s line about AIPAC being derelict in its job is, at best, a cheap shot, and, at worse, a devious attack on a group that rightly suspects that his overtures toward the Jewish state are not to be trusted.

But before we file this incident away as an incomplete forward pass cynically aimed at Jewish voters by Paul, those who care about Israel and the slim hopes for peace need to acknowledge that the isolationist isn’t completely wrong here.

The security cooperation between the two peace partners/antagonists helps the PA as much if not more than Israel because without it Hamas might have toppled Abbas in the West Bank just as it did in Gaza in 2007. But, like it or not, Israel needs the PA to stay afloat even if it is an untrustworthy, hate fomenting foe as much as a partner.

Yet part of the problem with the PA dating back to its beginnings in the aftermath of the Oslo Accords is that it has exploited Israel’s dependence on it as a shield against accountability. Rather than use aid to the PA as leverage to force it to stand up against terror and to stop broadcasting hate and undermining peace, the U.S., often with Israel’s connivance, has given it a pass. It has been all carrot and no stick, a situation that has allowed the PA to become an institution that works hard to stoke the fires of the conflict even as it is insincerely praised as a force for peace. No matter what it does, up to and including forming a new alliance with a group that is dedicated not just to Israel’s elimination but also to genocide, it knows it can be sure that the spigot of U.S. taxpayer money funneling into the pockets of Abbas’s Fatah cronies will never be turned off. Just as Kerry’s initiative failed in large measure because of the administration’s unwillingness to press the Palestinians while they were also mercilessly bashing Israel, so, too, does the aid perpetuate the conflict as much it helps keep the peace.

While it is true the Israelis are no more interested in cutting U.S. aid to the Palestinians than the administration, Paul is right in the sense that unless something is eventually done to scare the PA straight, it will never stop feeding the anti-Zionist hate that fuels the conflict. This is a sentiment that is shared by most supporters of Israel, including AIPAC members. Nor is it surprising that the Zionist Organization of America formally endorsed Paul’s proposal.

So while Paul’s swipe at AIPAC was wrongheaded and has more to do with his ambition than any love for Israel, his critics shouldn’t be so blithe about spiking his proposal. It’s time to start holding the PA accountable for its behavior. What’s too bad is that Paul, of all people, seems to be the only one ready to do so.

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