No More ‘Pay to Slay’
President Biden visits Israel and the West Bank Wednesday and is expected to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Mr. Abbas will undoubtedly press Mr. Biden to reopen the Palestine Liberation Organization’s office in Washington, which President Trump closed in 2018. Mr. Biden must make clear that for the PLO mission to open, the Palestinians must stop paying terrorists, and families of terrorists, who have attacked Israelis.
This U.S. dispute with Palestinian policy isn’t new. Washington ended direct budgetary support for the Palestinian Authority in 2014 over concerns that the prisoner and “martyr” payments create incentives for terrorism. The lack of Palestinian responsiveness led Congress in 2018 to pass the bipartisan Taylor Force Act, prohibiting U.S. assistance to the West Bank that directly benefits the Palestinian Authority (with limited exceptions for the east Jerusalem hospital network and childhood vaccinations). Although Mr. Trump closed the mission on other grounds, Congress later amended the Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act to link its reopening to the abandonment of the policy informally called pay for slay. While Congress has few issues of bipartisan agreement, holding the Palestinian leadership accountable for prisoner and martyr payments is one.
The Palestinians would be wise to heed these messages from both sides of the congressional aisle as well as administrations of both parties. Having a system of payments pegged to the extent of the violence inflicted is a moral stain on the Palestinian Authority.
The authority defends the payments on the grounds that they are required to keep families from destitution if the main breadwinner has died or been jailed. In private conversations with U.S. officials, Palestinian leaders further claim that the payments are necessary to prevent Hamas from making its own payments and currying favor among West Bank Palestinians. But these attempts to justify money for violence are specious. The authority writes checks regardless of whether the terrorist was a breadwinner, or even employed.
The Palestinian Authority should repeal its pay-for-slay law and budget and instead build a social safety net open to everyone—including terrorists’ families and released prisoners—that is based solely on need. The infrastructure for this exists. A legitimate social-welfare system must be built around welfare and job programs, not encouraging violence. There is plenty of money for it: According to a report by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, in 2018 the Palestinian Authority spent some $344 million paying 37,500 martyrs and prisoners and only $205 million to support 118,000 welfare recipients.
Mr. Biden took office with a stated goal of rebuilding ties with the Palestinians, and despite Palestinian dissatisfaction, policies have been implemented that do just that. Economic and humanitarian assistance to the West Bank that is consistent with Taylor Force restrictions has resumed, and the president’s budget request for the next fiscal year continues that aid. American diplomats have met regularly with Palestinian officials, including Mr. Abbas.
If the Palestinian leadership wants the PLO mission in Washington reopened, they must take seriously the U.S. bipartisan message on terrorism payments. And if the Palestinians genuinely want to reset relations with the U.S. and begin to regain what they have lost, this week they should seize what may be their only opportunity to speak with Mr. Biden on their own turf.
Mr. Gerber is CEO of Hudson Bay Capital and a member of the MEPPA Advisory Board. Mr. Koplow is chief policy officer of Israel Policy Forum.
Originally published in WSJ.