Israeli-American billionaire Haim Saban, one of the most significant donors in Democratic politics, is backing a law aimed at preventing the Palestinian Authority from paying terrorists and their families. According to JTA, Saban will help push for the passage of the Taylor Force Act, supporting the efforts of the American Israeli Coalition for Action, an advocacy group affiliated with the Israeli American Council.
In a time when the Democratic party is allegedly cooling on Israel, Saban’s endorsement of the current version of the bill is being read as a sign that there’s still space for bipartisan agreement around U.S. policy. Congressional Democrats see the bill as a backdoor for cutting off nearly all U.S. funding to the Palestinian Authority, which maintains a fragile control over parts of the West Bank. Still, both Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Foreign Affairs Committee ranking member Ben Cardin have said they would support a modified version of the bill, with Cardin saying last week that Congress would “find a way to pass” into law in some form.
“The Taylor Force Act originated with Republicans, but it was always intended to be bipartisan and we have sought Democratic support from the beginning,” said Noah Pollack, a Washington, D.C.-based pro-Israel advocate who has been closely involved in the bill. “Stopping U.S. aid from being used to reward terror should be a consensus goal, and so we’re grateful that someone as important in shaping Democratic foreign policy as Haim Saban is helping this effort.”
Named after a United States Military Academy graduate and Iraq and Afghanistan veteran who an attacker from the West Bank murdered in Jaffa in March of 2016, The Taylor Force Act is designed to prevent American taxpayer money from incentivizing Palestinian terrorism. Currently, the PA spends some $300 million a year, or a full 7 percent of its budget, paying out stipends to dead or imprisoned militants and their families—numbers that Tablet broke last month. The payments are often many times higher than the median income of the Palestinian Territories and structured to reward especially severe or deadly acts, with murderers receiving as much as $3,500 a month. The $500 million that the U.S. provides to the Palestinians each year subsidizes a system that sanctions or even encourages violence—including attacks on U.S. citizens, over a dozen of whom have died at the hands of Palestinian militants since 2014. About 6,000 Palestinians are currently in Israeli prisons, and the fund for Palestinian “martyrs” pays stipends to over 35,000 families.
It’s difficult to believe that Americans support the idea of their government helping to compensate terrorists who have killed or wounded U.S. citizens. Still, although Israel has sometimes withheld customs revenues it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority, often to protest the organization’s various unilateral moves in the UN or other international fora, the PA is simply too important to Israel’s security, and its diplomatic standing, for Jerusalem to threaten its existence. Israel always continues transferring the funds after a certain period.
In the U.S., AIPAC has played an important and often behind-the-scenes role in supporting U.S. funding for the PA, presumably because it sees its collapse—and with it, the collapse of anything resembling an Israeli-Palestinian peace process—as a nightmare scenario for the U.S.-Israel relationship. Unsurprisingly, AIPAC has been less explicit in its support for the Taylor Force Act than other pro-Israel groups.
The final version of the law is likely to include waivers allowing the president to suspend its provisions in the interest of US national security, similar to the broad executive powers built into most foreign policy-related legislation. Whatever the law’s purpose, there have historically been strong misgivings in both Jerusalem and Washington over the entire concept of using funding as leverage over the PA. In the end, the Taylor Force Act could show just how hard it is for the US Congress to shift the conflict’s underlying factors—even when it has most Republicans and a major Democratic donor on board.
“You see the Democrats signalling that they can support this in concept,” said one Democratic strategist who works on Israel-related issues. “It’s also possible that by the time the bill passes it will have so many exceptions and exemptions that it doesn’t change that much.”
Armin Rosen is a staff writer for Tablet magazine.