U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham has reintroduced a piece of legislation that aims to cut off funds to the Palestinian Authority if it continues paying terrorists and their families.
“The Palestinian Authority, I think, is sick when it comes to this kind of system that rewards their young people for committing acts of terrorism,” Graham said in a Facebook Live video on Wednesday.
The South Carolina Republican first introduced the bill, known as the Taylor Force Act, in September, but it never came up for a vote after being referred to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The bill is named after former U.S. Army officer Taylor Force, who was stabbed to death last year by a Palestinian terrorist while visiting Israel. At the time, Force, 29, was a graduate student at Vanderbilt University and traveling with other students on a program studying global entrepreneurship.
Force had previously served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Graham, who is also chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism, reintroduced the bill with nine co-sponsors, including Republican Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Dan Coats of Indiana, and Force’s parents on Wednesday.
The bill aims to curb Palestinian violence against U.S. and Israeli citizens, and “shines a light on a very real problem,” Graham said in September when introducing the Taylor Force Act. If approved, the bill would entirely cut off U.S. funds to the Palestinian Authority until “they change their laws.”
“You can’t be a partner in peace when you are paying people to commit terrorist acts. The choice the Palestinians make will determine the type of relationship they have with the United States in the years to come,” Graham said.
The U.S. distributed about $317 million to the West Bank and Gaza last year, according to a report from the U.S. Agency for International Development. That figure doesn’t include security funding, however.
Graham said foreign aid to the Palestinian Authority is under strict Congressional oversight and restrictions due to concerns that it could be “diverted to Palestinian terrorist groups.”
The State Department told Bloomberg News in June that it was deducting funds from its development assistant account for the Palestinian Authority.
The authority has started distributing foreign aid to an unsanctioned stipend program, the Palestine Liberation Organization. In 2016, Coats proposed an amendment to the State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill that would halt U.S. funds to any successor or affiliated organizations of the Palestinian Authority.
But it never came up for a vote after being approved by the Senate Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations.
That means U.S. foreign aid is still distributed to project assistance and budget support for the Palestinian Authority, which provides salaries and other benefits to prisoners in Israeli prisons, including Palestinians convicted by Israeli civil courts of murder and terrorism and the families of those who are killed while carrying out attacks.
The Palestinian Authority pays about $170 million a year to prisoners and families of convicted terrorists, according to the Middle East Media Research Institute.
In 2014, some members of Congress called on the State Department to cut off U.S. funds to the Palestinian Authority after Hamas entered into a government with Fatah. But the State Department argued that Hamas leaders weren’t formal members of the new government – justifying a continuation of aid.
The U.S. sends foreign aid to the Palestinian Authority to help it “meet humanitarian needs, foster civil society, and promote the prevention or mitigation of terrorism against Israel from the Sunni Islamist group Hamas and other militant organizations,” according to a recent Congressional Research Service report.
“I don’t mind helping the Palestinians, but I’m not going to invest in a system I think is sick,” Graham said during his Facebook Live video on Wednesday. “I want peace in the Middle East, but you’ll never get peace when you have a government paying young people to commit acts of terrorism.”
Graham predicted that the bill would have broad bipartisan support if it were to receive a vote from the Senate. Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., and Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-N.Y., plan to introduce companion legislation in the House.
But it could be difficult for the group of Republican lawmakers to garner bipartisan support for the proposed legislation. Many members of Congress have feared cutting foreign aid to the Palestinian Authority as it could lead to its collapse and cause a security crisis.
While Israeli leaders and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the largest pro-Israel lobbying group on Capitol Hill, have strongly opposed past efforts to defund the authority, Graham said that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other leaders now favor the Taylor Force Act.
During his visit to Washington earlier this month, Netanyahu noted the death of Force as an example of the threat Israel faces from Palestinian extremists.
“This is institutionalized terrorism,” Graham said at a press conference on Wednesday.
Graham said he hopes the legislation garners support from the AIPAC. “This is a chance to get on board with a piece of legislation that is good for America — because we’re not going to use your hard-earned dollars, the American citizen, to invest in a legal system that has an absurd outcome.”
Watch U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC, and other Republic lawmakers reintroduce the Taylor Force Act on Capitol Hill: