WASHINGTON - The political drama in the U.S. Senate over the fate of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) last week has led to a delay in the negotiations over the Taylor Force Act, the most important piece of legislation on Israel and the Palestinians currently being considered by the Senate.
Sources from both sides of the aisle told Haaretz over the weekend that while an updated version of the bill, which would freeze U.S. funding to the Palestinian Authority until it stops paying salaries to convicted terrorists and their families, is very close to being finalized, the bipartisan group of senators working on it have yet to agree on several details.
The Taylor Force Act was introduced in late February by Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, and is named after an American citizen who was murdered in a terror attack in Tel Aviv last year.
Three weeks ago, two former U.S. officials who had worked for both Republican and Democratic administrations expressed support for the bill during the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s hearing on the matter, but also advised the Senate to make some changes to it, in order to ensure that Palestinian civilians won't be hurt by it and that it won't lead to a deterioration in Israel's security.
The committee's chairman, Senator Bob Corker, a Republican from Tennessee who has stated that he wants to see a "Taylor Force-like" bill pass this summer, has since been working with a group of Senators from both parties to update the bill's language to reflect the advice of the two experts who spoke before the committee - Elliott Abrams, a veteran of the Bush and Reagan administrations, and Dan Shapiro, who was U.S. Ambassador to Israel under the Obama administration. Sources involved in the process expected to see the updated version of the legislation produced this Thursday, but as of Saturday evening, it has not yet been released.
A number of Republicans involved in the process claimed the source for delay was Senator Ben Cardin, a Democrat from Maryland and the senior Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who is known for his strong support of Israel (Cardin was one of five Democrats who voted against the Iran nuclear deal in 2015.) One Republican source said that Cardin was "screwing around with the process" and being "wobbly" with the new language of the bill.
Cardin's office said on Friday that, "Since the recent hearing, Senator Cardin has been discussing potential amendments and changes to the bill with his bipartisan colleagues. A bipartisan effort requires a negotiation and currently, he is waiting for word back from Senators Graham and Corker on options that have been discussed. Senator Cardin hopes there can be some agreement on updated bill language soon. Unfortunately , because of the health care debate, a meeting to review amendments was postponed. Senator Cardin hopes all outstanding issues can be resolved shortly."
Now that the healthcare debate seems to be over - for the immediate future, at least - it might be easier for all sides to finish working on the updated language of the bill. Noah Pollak, a conservative political consultant who has been working to promote the bill, said that, "This bill isn't symbolic - it has a real purpose, which is to demonstrate to the PA that its encouragement of terrorism will cost it U.S. aid. The current PA-promoted violence in Jerusalem shows just how urgently needed the bill is. An aid cut from Congress will do vastly more than press releases in getting Abbas's attention."
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