Category Archives: Palestine

Will the Taylor Force Act and UNRWA Reform Destroy the PA?

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

America should have learned that the Palestinian Authority believes that there are no consequences for its institutionalized corruption and its compensation system for terrorists and their families.

If the Senate passes and President Donald Trump signs the Taylor Force Act, ending Palestinian Authority funding unless the PA stops its payments to terrorists and their families, would the PA really collapse, and if so what would be the consequences?

The US House of Representatives and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee have already approved the Taylor Force legislation. Now it’s up to the full Senate to vote, awaiting Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to bring it to the floor for a full vote or attach it to other legislation.

Nearly half of all American foreign aid to the PA goes to prisoners ($345 million) and the families of so-called “martyrs,” what Americans call terrorists. The more heinous the terrorism, the more money a prisoner and his family get for a lifetime. The Taylor Force Act aims to end this practice.

As Senator Bob Corker (R-Tennessee), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee said, the PA created a “system in law that pays Palestinian prisoners… more money if they have longer [prison] sentence… Prisoners purposely commit more heinous crimes to get more money for families… PA incentivizes terrorism.”

His colleague Rep. Ed Royce (R-California), the chairman of the House Foreign Relations committee said, “With this legislation, we are forcing the PA to choose between US assistance and these morally reprehensible policies.”

Critics of this legislation claim that the PA would collapse without American aid, being replaced by a more radical entity like Hamas, hurting Israeli and American security interests. Given the PA-Hamas reconciliation agreement last year and Hamas’s stating this month that it will place its weapons under PA control if it can join the PLO, the distinction between these two rivals may have dramatically dissipated.

Of the $600m. per year given to the PA, approximately $290m. is from the State Department under USAID for debt relief, NGOs, hospitals, economic development etc., $355m. goes to UNRWA and the smallest amount, $55m., to PA security forces. Aid to PA security working with Israel would not be threatened.

But from an American taxpayer perspective, rewarding terrorists is abhorrent.

Which brings us to UNRWA, the humanitarian UN organization that perpetuates the conflict by counting the descendants of Palestinian refugees as refugees, refusing to resettle them, while teaching an anti-Israel curriculum in its school system.

UNRWA is the next congressional target for reform.

President Trump has threatened to decrease aid to UNRWA after the condemnation of the United States by the vast majority of UN General Assembly members in the aftermath of the US acknowledging Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

UNRWA treats Palestinian refugees differently than any other refugees in the world.

For Syrian refugees living in Europe, their children born in Europe are not counted as refugees and are encouraged by the UN to resettle. But for a Palestinian who has lived in Europe for the past 70 years, their European- born children are considered stateless Palestinians in perpetuity, given the false hope of a “right of return,” a euphemism for the demographic destruction of Israel.

So, could a dramatic decrease in funding destabilize the PA, or is it time to stop the rationalizations and realpolitik and end funding of terrorists, and a system that has not only perpetuated the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but has ossified any potential progress?

As for UNRWA, there would be humanitarian issues with a significant decrease in funding. According to The Times of Israel, UNRWA “educates half a million children… doctors see eleven million patients per year, and UNRWA conducts vocational training for 9000 young people” annually.

The best strategy for the time being is to continue UNRWA funding but only if Congress writes and the president signs legislation that changes UNRWA’s definition of “refugee” to that of the UNHCR (UN High Commission for Refugees), with Palestinian refugees’ descendants being treated as every other descendant of a refugee in the world. This must also be accompanied by the demand that UNRWA end its incitement against Israel and Jews in UNRWA-run schools and related facilities.

As for the Taylor Force Act, it makes sense to stop literally paying for terrorism against civilians with American taxpayer money.

America should have learned that the PA believes that there are no consequences for its institutionalized corruption and its compensation system for terrorists and their families. Some potential terrorists arrested during the “knife intifada,” when asked why they were committing terrorism, admitted that they only needed a few more years in prison to financially set their families for life.

This may be a propitious point in time for action on these issues, as Sunni Arab nations are more interested in working with Israel and the US on their growing problems with Iran, and less concerned with their Palestinian cousins.

So will the PA collapse if the Taylor Force Act and UNRWA reform are instituted? It is all up to the Palestinians.

All they have to do to continue their aid is to stop paying terrorists, while preparing their people for the hard choices that need to be made if they truly believe in co-existing as two states for two peoples.

It is all up to them.

The writer is director of MEPIN™, the Middle East Political and Information Network™. Dr. Mandel regularly briefs members of Congress and think tanks on the Middle East. He is a regular contributor to The Jerusalem Post.

What Will the U.S. Do if Hamas Wins the Upcoming Palestinian Elections?

A Hamas victory could destabilize the entire region.

This October will mark the first Palestinian election in over a decade.

The previous election, 10 years ago, was a parliamentary election that brought Hamas into power, while this one is a municipal election. Knowing what happened in 2005, why would the corrupt, despised Palestinian Authority risk an election when Palestinians might choose Hamas’s Islamism over Fatah’s cronyism? The answer is that the PA was over-confident that Hamas would boycott this election, as it boycotted the municipal elections in 2012. Now, Hamas could win municipalities in Samaria, literally a stone’s throw from the Israeli center where 80 percent of the Jewish population resides. Hamas is looking now for a foothold in the West Bank, replicating its path to power in Gaza in 2005, and also diverting attention from its failure to provide essential services in Gaza.

Will an American administration and Congress allow American tax dollars to fund Hamas-controlled municipalities, if they win elections there? In 2006, Congress passed the “Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act,” prohibiting the executive branch from directly funding any Hamas-controlled Palestinian government. But when a unity Palestinian government was announced in 2014 that included Hamas, the Obama administration offered them money, with the excuse that the future Hamas-Fatah government was to be composed of only technocrats, not of the actual murderers of civilians one would label as terrorists.

But more troubling is that a Hamas victory would come at a very sensitive time.

According to Pinhas Inbari of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, “The Palestinian Authority is getting dismantled… every province is going its own way, and Ramallah is losing its control over the entire West Bank.” In Hebron “we have the tribal system getting stronger” and in Nablus, “the refugee camps are taking over the city… spreading anarchy all around.”

Unless Fatah can get its act together at its upcoming Fatah General Congress to beat Hamas, its house is divided between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and his rival Muhammad Dahlan.

Not only are Israel and the US Congress keenly interested in the outcome of this election, but so are Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. A Hamas victory would be a victory for the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), the enemy of President Abdel Fattah Sisi in Egypt and also of the Saudi royal family. In Jordan the Brotherhood-associated “Islamic Action Front,” a rival of the government of Jordan, is having a rough enough time accommodating millions of Syrian refugees, and could be destabilized by a Hamas victory on its western bank.

Avi Issacharoff of The Times of Israel reported, “The threat to Fatah is real enough that COGAT commander Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai… and top Shin Bet [Israeli Security Agency] officials… [have] warned high-ranking PA officials that holding the elections could be a dangerous gamble.”

Some in Israel even favor foreign aid bolstering the PA or even Hamas to avoid having anarchy and civil war next door.

Unfortunately we already know which way Palestinians are leaning. At Palestinian universities, Hamas student leaders defeat Fatah-supported candidates regularly, while opinion polls in both the West Bank and Gaza reveal Palestinian Arabs wouldn’t mind seeing another war against Israel.

So what should Congress do? Some will rationalize that giving American taxpayer money to an organized terrorist entity is the lesser of two evils, avoiding the collapse of the PA, an American foreign policy interest.

But a strong case can be made to withhold aid from anything run by Hamas, which is uncontestably a terrorist organization. The congressional legislation of 2006 makes it clear that the president must certify that “no ministry, agency, or instrumentality of the Palestinian Authority is controlled by a foreign terrorist organization… [and] refrain from financially supporting the terrorist organization Hamas… until Hamas agrees to recognize Israel, renounce violence, disarm, and accept prior agreements… [and] eliminate anti-Israel and anti-Semitic incitement,” which even the PA has never done.

Congress needs to keep the US position clear: we don’t fund terrorist organizations, and Hamas is a terrorist organization.

The author is the director of MEPIN™ (Middle East Political and Information Network™) and a regular contributor to The Jerusalem Post. MEPIN™ is a Middle East research analysis read by members of Congress, their foreign policy advisers, members of the Knesset, journalists and organizational leaders. He regularly briefs members of Congress on issues related to the Middle East.