Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opened Sunday’s cabinet meeting with praise for the Taylor Force Act passed Friday in the United States, under which Washington will cut aid payments to the Palestinian Authority if it transfers money to prisoners convicted of terror activity or to their families.
Netanyahu told the cabinet that the act, named after an American killed in a terror attack in Jaffa in 2016, “is designed to deny to the Palestinian Authority hundreds of millions of dollars that they invest in encouraging terrorism and lavish on terrorist families and the murderers themselves. I think that this is a very powerful signal from the U.S., which is changing the rules. It is unwilling to accept the truth of the past or, I should say, the lies of the past, and live with them.”
Meanwhile, two similar bills in Israel – one sponsored by the government (Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman) and one a private member’s bill (Yesh Atid MK Elazar Stern) – have been delayed in recent months due to objections by the defense and finance ministries, which prefer to leave the matter up to the security cabinet rather than have it legislated.
Stern’s “bill to cut back funding to the PA due to support for terror – 2018” passed in its initial Knesset vote. Lieberman’s bill under the heading “cutbacks of terrorists’ salaries” was crafted as a softer version from the governing coalition because of the flexibility is gives the security cabinet. It was approved a month ago by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation and has not yet reached the Knesset for its initial vote.
“I hope they won’t delay the bill. It’s been very delayed; eight months for the time being. This is a bill that will save lives and reduce incitement to murder,” Stern told Haaretz.
“The difference between my bill and the government initiative is flexibility for the [security] cabinet. We’ve done nothing this way. It took time with the legal aspects because the money here is the Palestinians’ as opposed to the Americans’,” he added.
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“Afterward there’ll be a disagreement over what to do with the money. Should it be given to terror victims or kept for the Palestinians? I’m willing to have it kept for them as an incentive against terror.”
During discussions in the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, defense and finance ministry officials said Stern’s bill was inflexible and thus would not let the government transfer funding even if it wanted to for “diplomatic or security considerations.”
Defense Ministry lawyer Gal Cohen told the committee that the government bill was preferable because it allowed the inner cabinet “some flexibility” to transfer part of sums it was delaying or “full flexibility in keeping with political and security considerations.” According to Cohen, such considerations could be related to security “in terms of the situation in the PA,” or to diplomatic considerations “if some sort of agreement is being formulated.”
Shaul Cohen, an adviser to the Finance Ministry’s director general, told the committee there is a “complex” legal problem in cutting back payments because the money Israel would be holding back comes from customs duties collected for the PA; its transfer is obligated under the Oslo Accords’ Paris Protocol. Israel, however, has delayed these payments a number of times as a penalty or a way to apply pressure.
As reported by the Walla news site, the Finance Ministry’s internal opinion is also against Lieberman’s complicated bill. In a document sent to the relevant ministries, the Finance Ministry opposes an “irreversible reduction,” saying that “freezing” the money is preferable.
Officials familiar with the bill said they believed the Finance Ministry’s opposition would impede further legislation. Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and the defense establishment are the government’s representatives in charge of the transfer of money to the PA. Kahlon has said he is against transferring money intended to support anyone convicted of terror, but he prefers to leave the matter up to the security cabinet rather than legislate it.
Sources close to Lieberman said his bill “was formulated with all security branches and the relevant government ministries (the Foreign Ministry, the treasury, the Justice Ministry and others). The bill is the best answer to the PA’s support for terror. As opposed to what has been claimed, the bill is ready for its first vote and will be brought before the Knesset when the summer session opens.”
On Sunday, Netanyahu told the cabinet that Taylor Force came “from a wonderful family,” while the law named after him “is simply exposing lie after lie and is standing up on truth after truth. I congratulate the American Congress and President Trump for these decisions. I am certain that I do so on behalf of all Israeli government ministers.”