President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority (PA) is scheduled to call this week on President Trump. Meanwhile, the U.S. Congress is considering the Taylor Force Act, which would require Abbas to either dismantle his government’s system of rewards for terrorists or forfeit American financial aid. The proposed law is controversial largely because the PA presents a confusing picture of itself.
To much of the world, the PA represents hope for a consensual resolution of the Palestinian–Israeli conflict. Created by the 1993 Oslo peace accords, it is widely recognized as the Palestinians’ representative body. Its leader was popularly elected. President Obama and other leaders have described the PA as moderate, committed to peace, and opposed to anti-Israeli violence. What seems to confirm its reputation for moderation is its rivalry with Hamas, the extremist Islamist group that the U.S. government rightly designates as terrorists. The PA’s security forces cooperate with the Israeli Defense Forces against Hamas.
All of that is on the one hand. On the other, the PA is a nightmare of bad leadership.
It is anti-democratic. Its officials are notoriously corrupt. It’s a source of torrential anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish propaganda. Though it helps Israel fight those terrorists who oppose both Israel and the PA, it actively foments anti-Israel terrorism in its own domain through its formal legislative and bureaucratic system of professional and cash benefits for Palestinians who commit knifings, axe-murders, shootings, and car-rammings.
Abbas was elected to a four-year presidential term in 2005. Popular dissatisfaction with the PA’s pervasive corruption put his reelection in doubt, so no new elections were scheduled. He simply remains in power.
Abbas says that he supports peace, but the Israeli government offered him a generous deal in 2008. The Israelis had just handed all of Gaza over to the PA. They offered him virtually all the West Bank, with unprecedented concessions on Jerusalem. He nevertheless scorned the deal.
Abbas and his PA colleagues are bound and determined to perpetuate the conflict with Israel. Their personal interests require it. If the conflict ended, they would lose foreign aid, which makes their lucrative corruption possible. They would stop receiving invitations to the White House and other gratifying diplomatic attention. They would cease to be the leaders of a long-standing and proudly uncompromising national struggle, forfeiting their self-respect and prestige, especially in the Arab and Muslim worlds. For them, peace would be hell.
But peace could enormously benefit the Palestinian people. It could open a path to greater freedom and prosperity for them and save their children from the fatal lure of “martyrdom.” Those interests, alas, don’t influence PA policy.
As Abbas heads for Washington, U.S. officials should understand that at the heart of the Palestinian–Israeli problem is the conflict of interests between Palestinian leaders and their own people. That’s the context in which Congress should consider the Taylor Force Act.
Of all that’s wrong with the way the PA operates, nothing is more harmful than the elaborate apparatus it has created to push its people to become terrorists. It’s known as “pay for slay.” The PA has created two (two!) ministries specifically for this purpose, with combined budgets exceeding $330 million in 2016. The PA pays lump sums and lifetime salaries to terrorists and their families. The size of the payments correlates to the number of their victims and the severity of the harm inflicted on them. The payments dwarf the average monthly salaries of ordinary working inhabitants of the West Bank.
It’s sick, and it’s expensive. And it’s facilitated by U.S. aid dollars even though some of the victims of this terrorism are, like Taylor Force, U.S. citizens.
Force graduated from West Point and served tours in the U.S. Army in Afghanistan and Iraq. He was in Israel for a graduate-studies program. As he was visiting a tourist site in Jaffa in 2016, a young Palestinian stabbed him to death.
Unfortunately, American officials can’t actually advance the cause of Palestinian–Israeli peace through talks with current Palestinian officials. A sensible policy would aim to improve Palestinian society in hopes of bringing to the fore a different and better leadership. If we do provide aid, it should serve not to entrench Abbas and his cronies but to empty the so-called refugee camps and provide the inhabitants with proper, permanent housing. The purpose of aid should be to create job opportunities for ordinary Palestinians, not to reward terrorists or further enrich corrupt PA leaders.
Only when the Palestinians have leaders who actually want to end the conflict through compromise — and improve not only their own lives only but also those of all their people — will there be peace.
Passing the Taylor Force Act would be a declaration that the PA should change its nature. Without such a change, no diplomacy will work.