Why the U.S. Should Change Its Approach Toward the Palestinian Authority

In March 2018, the United States sent a strong, bipartisan message to the Palestinian Authority (PA) through the Taylor Force Act: Stop the promotion, glorification and incentivization of terrorism and violence against Israeli civilians or the U.S. will withhold hundreds of millions of dollars in annual economic aid. Eighteen months have passed, and the traditional levers of conditioning aid to prevent bad behavior have failed to induce the PA leadership to end this despicable practice. Now, there is a pressing need for a broader paradigm shift in how U.S. policymakers deal with the PA.

Since the PA’s inception in 1994, the U.S. has provided it billions of dollars in aid. And for years, the PA budgeted 7 percent of government spending to pay convicted terrorists (including killers of U.S citizens), their families and other prisoners substantial salary and health benefits, free tuition and, for women sentenced to five or more years (men need 10 years), a guaranteed government job upon release from prison. Murderers can “earn” over $40,000 per year – an income far higher than the $3,710 average for the Palestinian economy.

The U.S. rightly ended this use of aid dollars after a Palestinian terrorist murdered an American, Taylor Force, as he strolled with friends near a Tel Aviv beach promenade. Force, 28, from Texas was an Eagle Scout, a West Point graduate, and U.S. Army officer who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. His killer, who wounded 10 others before being shot dead by Israeli police, was declared a hero and a martyr by the PA – entitling his family to substantial PA payments for life.

Although the U.S. has begun to apply economic pressure on the Palestinians, we have continued to send mixed messages by our continued political engagement with the PA. Recently, for example, large delegations of both Democratic and Republican members of Congress visited Israel and actively sought meetings with PA President Mahmoud Abbas. Abbas met with the 41 Democrat legislators but reportedly snubbed the 31 Republicans.

Just two weeks prior to his meeting with congressional leaders, Abbas reportedly told a crowd of supporters: “We will not accept their designation of our martyrs as terrorists. Our martyrs are the martyrs of the homeland. We will not allow them to deduct a single penny from their money. All the money will go back to them, because the martyrs, the wounded, and the prisoners are the most sacred things we have.”

PA incitement is widespread and continues unabated. Its summer camps, television programming and school curricula are saturated with crass anti-Semitism and terrorist hero-worship.

Besides promoting a culture of violence within the Palestinian people, the boycott of the Kushner/Greenblatt plan to deliver $50 billion of assistance further calls into question whether the PA even governs in the interest of its people.

Considering President Abbas and the PA’s long record of denying Israel’s right to exist and glorification of terror, the PA is an obstacle to peace, not a partner, and the U.S. should approach its leadership with the understanding that it institutionally engages in the indoctrination of the Palestinian people to hate Israel.

However, while the U.S. must have a paradigm shift in its relations with the PA, it cannot afford to cut off all communication with the PA or wait for new leadership. Palestinian-Israeli relations need U.S. engagement to avoid the fragile situation from spiraling out of control, especially on matters of security coordination. Also, the U.S. cannot simply wait out the current generation of PA leadership, since is not clear that the next PA president will be any more moderate than the current leader or any more inclined towards peace.

Instead, the U.S. should model its approach on the Helsinki Accords that it signed with the Soviet Union in 1975, which allowed Soviet citizens to push for human rights and develop civil society organizations that fostered the dissolution of the Soviet Union 25 years after their creation. Promoting similar independent human rights watchdog organizations in Palestinian society should further reveal PA corruption and intransience that, over time, will promote and enable moderate Palestinians to demand the rights they deserve.

The acknowledgment by Congress in the Taylor Force Act that the Palestinian Authority has institutionalized its promotion and sponsorship of terrorism must translate into a shift in how the U.S. interacts with the PA and engages them in negotiations. Since the current PA leadership has shown it won’t end its incitement, there will be lasting peace between the PA and Israel only once a new group of moderate Palestinians have power.

Originally published in The Hill.